Section 7: Programming in Emergencies


Non-food items (NFIs)

Providing NFI support in emergencies is essential to ensuring the safety, security, health, dignity and wellbeing of people affected by disasters.

Clothing, blankets and bedding materials meet personal human needs for shelter and for the maintenance of health, privacy and dignity. Access to basic goods and supplies enables affected populations to prepare and consume food appropriately, meet personal hygiene needs and build, maintain or repair shelters. All affected populations – whether they are able to return to the site of their original homes, are hosted by other families or are accommodated in temporary communal settlements – will have individual and household non-food item needs that must be assessed and met as appropriate.

Guiding principles

  • ActionAid’s response should be guided by the principles of common sense, context and consistency.

  • ActionAid will provide NFIs to the most vulnerable groups in the immediate response phase, based on the actual needs of affected people as identified through consultative processes undertaken as part of rapid/needs assessments.

  • ActionAid will engage affected communities in the selection and distribution of NFIs to ensure cultural appropriateness, dignity, transparency and accountability.

  • ActionAid will prioritise procurement of NFIs from local suppliers and vendors, or neighbouring areas within the country’s borders as far as possible.

  • Priority will be given to the specific NFI needs of women, children, people living with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, the elderly and other particularly vulnerable groups.

  • ActionAid will link affected communities with relevant government institutions or agencies to acquire appropriate NFIs if available to avoid any form of duplication.

  • ActionAid’s NFI interventions should be guided by the Sphere standards.

  • ActionAid should implement preparedness plans around non-food distributions, and may consider stockpiling materials ready for distribution during emergencies.


  • Understand what NFIs are or will be provided by the government or other agencies in ActionAid targeted areas.

  • Work with specialised agencies if required on NFI needs of the communities that may fall outside of ActionAid’s core strength and understanding.

  • Establish monitoring mechanisms to understand the impact of NFI support on local markets, as they can cause pocket inflation or increase prices – doing harm to people.

Deciding strategy

  • If NFIs are available in the market, adopt a cash-based approach such as cash-for-work, or training to enable communities to decide what to purchase and to have ownership over it.

  • Consider NFI distribution for children (e.g. education kits) only if education space is functioning and available.

  • Distribute NFIs only preferred by women and rights holders. The NFI distribution threshold is to be determined by size and household requirements.

  • Provide capacity-building, if required, for proper utilisation of any NFIs distributed.

  • Promote alternatives to NFI distribution by strengthening means of livelihood.

  • Consider local purchases to strengthen markets.

In all cases the items should be culturally appropriate and guidance should be given on how the items should be used.

Further Reading