Non-Food Items

Newly displaced persons have often been forced to leave their homes in a hurry and have had to leave essential personal and household items behind. The distribution of in-kind Non-Food Items (NFIs) is therefore an essential activity in the emergency phase. Providing NFIs supports the dignity, health, privacy and agency of affected populations, while simultaneously limiting exposure to further protection risks.

DRC’s approach to NFI distributions emphasizes the need for involving affected populations before, during and after distributions.  Systematic community involvement ensures that kits are culturally appropriate, and cater for the needs of all segments of the affected population in a non-discriminatory manner. DRC should represent beneficiary views on NFI commodities during coordination meetings and national DRC staff should be systematically consulted on kit composition. At the global level, NFIs fall under the Shelter Cluster, however, at the local level there may be alternative specific coordination mechanisms for NFIs.

The term NFIs is used synonymously with Core Relief Items (CRIs), with the latter preferred by UNHCR. NFI kits can take different forms depending on the context and needs. Common kits are: family kits, hygiene kits, baby kits, dignity kits, and winter/summer kits. Typically, kits include water containers, hygiene items, clothing, bedding, kitchen sets, cooking fuel, plus any context specific items, and are designed to meet immediate personal needs. Sometimes there are also elements of shelter included in the basic kit.

Frequently the composition of NFI kits is determined by the cluster or by UNHCR coordination entities in country, meaning that beneficiaries receive a more or less standardized kit regardless of which agency they receive it from. The kit composition must also be coordinated with other sectors, for example, with Food Security to ensure the right utensils are provided for the food distributed or with the WASH sector as they may be already providing other hygiene kits. NFIs can be sourced locally, nationally, internationally or through an already established pipeline. In an emergency, speed and cost-effectiveness are key factors when determining the most appropriate sourcing channel.


NFI interventions in emergencies

The objective of NFI distributions in an emergency is to ensure that the immediate personal needs of affected populations are covered and that a minimum level of dignity is ensured.

NFIs can be distributed in camps and camp-like settlements, rural and urban settings either as blanket distributions (meaning that all affected persons are targeted) or targeted towards persons with specific needs and vulnerabilities. Distribution points/sites should be designed in a manner which enables distributions and activities of other actors and other sectors, including Food Security, Shelter, WASH and Health. In all settings NFI distributions should target both hosts and the displaced based on needs and in support of positive relations and peaceful coexistence between them.

In a variety of contexts different schemes are in place where partners pool resources and/or tools with a view to ensure swift and harmonized sector support in emergencies. One such mechanism is the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) funded by ECHO and USAID OFDA in a number of contexts. Where possible DRC should strive to become an RRM partner and develop synergies with other DRC activities. As mentioned in the common challenges section, the sourcing of NFIs can be difficult, which is why DRC should always consider sourcing from a common pipeline if possible.

On a running basis we must assess the appropriateness and quality of the items distributed, the effectiveness of the distribution methodology, and the protection risks encountered before, during and after distributions. This entails the active participation of affected populations throughout an intervention.

Cash transfer programming should always be considered instead of in-kind, as a more dignified and flexible option. A number of preconditions have to be in place however before cash is a feasible option.

In the emergency phase, key aspects of DRC’s NFI programming include:

  • Undertaking independent or interagency needs assessments focused on needs and vulnerabilities. A useful list of cluster-aligned NFI/Shelter indicators is available from the OCHA managed Indicator Registry.
  • Defining the NFI commodities in coordination with other sectors, and with the participation of women, girls, boys and men. Local materials should be considered in support of the local economy.
  • Defining vulnerability criteria with representatives from the displaced and host communities (if relevant).
  • Sourcing and distributing the NFIs
    • Logistical arrangements, including ordering of NFIs, transport, storing and warehousing
    • Warehouse trackers, waybills and other systems supporting accountability and countering corruption and fraud should be established and kept up to date at all times
    • Establishing common procedures for distributions among all actors (including food, wash, health and nutrition), and establishing a complete distribution calendar for all sites.
    • Coordinating the security arrangements at distribution sites with relevant authorities. Beneficiaries and staff must be safe before during and after distributions.
    • Involving community members in distributions (crowd controllers, assistance to persons with special needs, carrying NFIs). This can be done on voluntary basis or though incentives.
    • Ensuring access to distributions or alternatives for persons with special needs.
  • Provide information and ensure accountability
  • Advertise distribution times, locations, eligibility criteria and the distribution basket to beneficiaries. Harmonizing approaches with other agencies will be most effective.
  • Display clear and understandable information on complaints and feedback mechanisms
  • Conducting post-distribution monitoring (PDM) to understand how items are used or not used, their acceptability, value to households, quality, and address any concerns in the distribution process.


Common challenges in NFI distributions in emergencies

  • Logistics and procurement. DRC often meets challenges with sourcing. Local procurement is often problematic related to quantity and quality. Sourcing of NFIs can also be cumbersome due to customs regulations, procurement thresholds as well as the large quantities and limited transport options in many emergencies.
  • Systems to ensure appropriate use of the items. NFIs are valuable commodities in emergency settings where resources are scarce. During transport, transaction and warehousing of NFIs there is a risk that they may be misappropriated by contractors, DRC staff, or authorities. Due diligence should be applied during all the above phases.
  • The composition of NFI kits to be distributed by DRC is frequently determined by the Shelter cluster, however, this can be a slow and cumbersome process and/or DRC can disagree with kit contents. There is a high risk of getting stuck in bureaucratic processes. As with other sector interventions, variations in the quality of NFIs can be a push/pull factor for secondary or tertiary displacement. Coordination and harmonization of standards is a key challenge in NFI interventions.
  • As with other in-kind distributions, the diversion or misdocumentation of commodities is a risk. Ensure appropriate commodity tracking and documentation, and follow up on any concerns
  • Safety of distribution sites, e.g. the risk of riots, endangers DRC staff and affected populations alike. Safety and protection colleagues should therefore be involved in designing distributions.


Core guidance and standards

The following tools and materials are available to support the design, implementation and monitoring of NFI distributions:


Additional reading



Annex 1: NFI Distribution SOP Template
Annex 2: NFI Post Distribution Monitoring Template
Annex 3: NFI Post Distribution Monitoring Data Entry Tool Template
Annex 4: NFI Distribution List Template
Annex 5: Key Messages for NFI Pre-Distribution Sensitization
Annex 6: NFI Distribution Checklist and Distribution Materials Checklist Template
Annex 7: Safety at Distribution Sites and Evacuation in the Field SOP
Annex 8: Note To File: Distributions Template
Annex 9: Distribution Report Template
Annex 10: Maps of Potential Distribution Sites
Annex 11: Warehouse and Storage Sites Management Tips
Annex 12: NFI Kit Composition Examples: Afghanistan (2018) , Cameroon (2018), Yemen Winterization (2018-2019)



Contact the HQ Emergency Unit: [email protected]