(The Humanitarian Social Network)
We see it in almost every relief response: those life-saving NFI kits, food parcels (I don’t know why we insist on calling them “food baskets”), tarpaulins, jerry-cans, shoes, or whatever else… that we’d gone to a lot of trouble to distribute directly to refugees or survivors end up for sale in local markets.
We usually just take this for granted as one of those things that always seems to happen. In some cases (Tsunamiland and Haiti come to mind) we used the appearance of relief materiel in local markets as a crude proxy to tell us, “okay, we’ve distributed enough of _______.” But other than this and sometimes post-distribution monitoring (which typically looks at the absorption/resale on one specific thing, as opposed to the overall issue of resale), as far as I know, the phenomenon of beneficiaries monetizing (selling) relief goods/food has never been looked at in any kind of systematic way.
Both Fiona Terry (Condemned to Repeat) and Linda Polman (Crisis Caravan) discuss the issue of relief supplies ending up in local markets generally as a bad thing. And fair enough, I suppose, given that they’re talking primarily about situations where those relief items including food are either diverted before ever being distributed or confiscated from beneficiaries soon after distribution. While on one hand a certain amount of relief stuff ending up in the host economy is probably inevitable, and I have yet to meet a relief op of any size that had zero per cent inventory slippage. However, on the other it is our responsibility as humanitarians to do all we can to ensure that the stuff we give out is, first, the right stuff, and second, that it ends up in the hands of those for whom it is intended.
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