Diet and ration use in central american refugee camps

Steven Hansch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This paper presents results from investigations of UNHCR-supported camps in Mexico and Honduras. The field work was conducted in 1987 and 1988 and included focus group, household, anthropometric, and informant surveys to measure the consumption patterns and food-related behaviour of the refugees. Food consumption and trade were then analysed as dependent variables to understand the interplay and importance of the following five sets of independent (exogenous, not influenced by refugee decisions) variables: the characteristics of donated foods; the system of distribution of said foods; refugees' expectations (or fears) about repatriation and property rights; household composition; and the camp setting and refugee access to local markets.Long-term refugee food security appears to be a function of evolving market practices and community networking that sets in early after a camp is founded. The research focused on the interplay between food purchases, food sales, ration dispersal, and overall diet. External market factors influenced the adequacy of refugee food intake and nutritional status as much as the ration provided: government and UNHCR policies on refugee location and mobility, as well as the packaging and method of ration distribution, affect much of the trade, enterprising behaviour, travel and integration of the refugees in the local economies. Well packaged, well-preserved, unitized, high-valued foods are more often traded. Culturally-preferred, low-cost staples are more likely to be consumed.Describing camp 'life-cycles' can help inform the planning of phased changes in rations. The longer the refugees are in an area, the more familiar they become with local customs, markets and marketing possibilities. Yet food assistance can erode the very community structure that allows the camp population to share and eradicate malnutrition in the long run. This need to bolster camp solidarity must be addressed when the camp is newly formed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)300-312
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Computational Mathematics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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