On the food distribution scheme in the Haiyan relief operations

Typhoon victims queue for free rice in Tacloban city. Photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro via The Telegraph

There ought to be a system in place that would facilitate distribution.  If I were the 500th in line, I’d only be able to get a food pack the following day after queueing at 7AM today; if luck is not with me, the packs may have ran out on my turn.  If I have three children with me, I would think about alternatives.  Maybe grab food from a grocery store that was forced open by others.  Hunger to ordinary mortals (i.e. those not doing it on purpose as opposed to those on hunger strike) does some things to their thought processes.  Starved brain cells compel the person (“with brains”) to seek alternatives heightening the fact that if he or she does not act soon death is the inevitable consequence.  Hence, in the absence of leadership and immediate response from government, the affected opted to do a DIY emergency response operation.  If they had been more “civilized” that is ignored the message from their brain cells and waited a week which was when relief came in, they’d have been among the dead littering the streets.

On the technical side, following human rights standards in emergencies, aid workers are compelled to protect the dignity of the survivors. Looking at the photo above, dignity is not palpable in the line.  Everyone’s miserable from personal loss and worry, and hunger exacerbates this.

If I’m the camp manager, I’d break the line of people into manageable numbers, say, 20-30 each group and assign a distributor to each (a public teacher in this country manages more and we know that when the number reaches 60 per the teacher reaches the breaking point so less than this number would make the teacher more effective. So yes 20-30 each.).  I’d have groups collectively for the pregnant, sick, elderly, children on their own, etc. For each group of recipients and the distributor, I’d assign a monitor whose task is to ensure that everything goes as it should.  If there are 500 people that would be 17 groups (30 per).  The distributors would come from the recipients themselves.  I’d ask for volunteers among them.  But the monitors would have to come from external volunteer or agency groups.  And oh yes the camp manager or overall supervisor of the distribution ought to have a PA system, the better for people to clearly hear instructions from.

This system can, on the first instance, double up as a registration activity of the affected (e.g. info on where among the rubbles they have set themselves up, in short, their current address); an opportunity for the camp manager to scan for more volunteers who can do or help supervise other camp work.

The survivors need to feel they have control over their lives after the destruction and involving them in bringing order in their environment helps.

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