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These guidelines were prepared by the technical divisions of the Pan American Health Organization.
For more information please contact us

Preparing and dispatching donated supplies

When packing supplies, use materials resistant enough to withstand the journey and the handling that the parcels will suffer.

Prepare a packing list describing the contents, ideally broken down by parcel.

Insert the packing list in one of the parcels and mark it "Packing List." Protect this list inside a water-resistant envelope.

Make parcels of a weight, size, and form that can be handled by one person (between 25 kg - 50 kg maximum). Remember that very often in the field, there is no equipment to unload and handle cargo.

Pack supplies in separate parcels according to their nature (clothes, drugs, food, personal needs, etc.)

Identify parcels that belong to the same consignment with consecutive numbers that relate to the total number of parcels in the shipment (i.e., on a consignment of 100 parcels, number 1/100, 2/100, 3/100, 4/100 and so on up to 100/100).

Label visibly every parcel with the name, address and telephone of the sender and the consignee, and any other specific characteristics of the cargo: fragile, urgent, need refrigeration, etc.

Inform consignees about the dispatch of every single shipment. Include information about the consignment (packing list, number of parcels, etc.), the means by which it was sent (type, company, characteristics, person in charge, etc.), its exact destination, arrival point and estimated time of arrival.

Verify and provide any special needs for the transport of the supplies (i.e. refrigeration).

Don't send any supplies that have not been requested by the disaster-stricken country.

Don't mix together in the same parcel items of a different nature (drugs, food, clothes, etc.)

Don't clog relief channels with donations that are not urgently needed.

Receiving supplies

Receiving the donations that pour into a disaster-stricken country is not an easy task. The flow of solicited and unsolicited relief supplies is often so overwhelming that it exceeds the ability of the country or an NGO to handle it.

PAHO/WHO has developed the SUMA system, a methodology that helps strengthen the preparedness and management capacity of the organizations who receive relief supplies. SUMA helps countries effectively and transparently manage the large-scale influx of humanitarian supplies. The SUMA software and users manuals can be downloaded from SUMA's Web site or requested from any WHO or PAHO office.

The following do's and don'ts have been abstracted from SUMA's training material. For more information, contact SUMA at Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo..

Be on site to supervise the unloading process: to avoid mishandling and to count the parcels.

Verify that the contents of the cargo received match the information on the documents enclosed (quality and quantity). Report ASAP to the sender any problems or discrepancies.

Use standard procedures, forms, and SUMA classification categories to register incoming supplies

SUMA classification categories:

  • Medicines
  • Water and sanitation
  • Health
  • Food and beverages
  • Shelter/Housing/Electricity/Construction
  • Logistics/Administration
  • Personal needs/ education
  • Human's Resources
  • Agriculture/Cattle industry
  • Unsorted

Request technical assistance (physicians, pharmacists, etc.) to classify medical items.

Use the "Unsorted" option to classify shipments with expired or useless items, or items that are too varied to classify on-the-spot.

Clearly label all boxes and packages with the appropriate priority level, according to SUMA methodology:

Priority 1: URGENT-IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION: items that require immediate distribution at the site of the emergency.

Mark the supplies of no foreseeable use or benefit (i.e. expired, damaged, useless or unidentifiable) as Priority 3: NON-PRIORITY ARTICLES to sidetrack them out of sight.

Use Priority 2: NON-URGENT DISTRIBUTION for other items which are not of immediate use in the emergency phase, but still may be of use later during reconstruction or development.

Share data about your supplies with other agencies. Institutional secrecy and a lack of transparency damages the relief effort and your image.

Don't assign priority 1 to the majority of items. It is counterproductive and self- defeating. The objective is to give preferential treatment to a limited amount of supplies of immediate use and benefit.

Don't let valuable supplies go unregistered! Keeping a paper trail of donations is the best safeguard against abuses and the best guarantee that the supplies will reach the intended beneficiaries.