Cash and Vouchers are means of transferring resources to an individual or household during a humanitarian crisis, in times of economic shock, or through social assistance programmes across a range of different sectors. These are increasingly being seen by the humanitarian and donor community around the world as a viable response option over commodity-based assistance e.g. in-kind food, and Non-food Items (NFIs).
Cash and voucher transfers are usually a timely and cost-effective alternative to in-kind food and NFIs and are the preferred means of assistance especially where local markets are functioning with sufficient supplies of basic goods and services, but people lack the financial means to purchase them.
A flood has hit a local community.
There has been some damage to the community infrastructure and people have lost their food stocks and crops due to the flooding. However, nearby the local markets are still functioning with availability of sufficient supplies, and the roads leading to the market are intact. In this case, is it better to give them food/NFIs or cash and vouchers?
The answer is cash or voucher, so families can buy what they need and the local market/economy also benefits from the cash injection.
A well planned cash and voucher intervention can help lift poor families from chronic food insecurity and poverty as well as boost local economy and markets. In several countries, cash and vouchers are used in long-term social welfare programmes of the government. An example of this is the National Income Support Programme in Pakistan (a federal unconditional cash transfer/poverty reduction programme to support families living below the poverty line) and similarly the Bosla Familia programme in Brazil that provides families with financial support with the condition that families send their children to school, and health center for vaccinations.
Even though cash and vouchers are increasingly becoming popular in the humanitarian community, an unplanned cash and voucher programme can pose a risk to local communities and markets if a thorough assessment has not been done prior implementation.
Let’s reverse the above example.
A flood has hit a local community.
There has been complete damage to the community infrastructure and people have lost their food stocks and crops due to the flooding. The nearby local markets have lost all their stocks and roads are severely damaged. In this case, is it better to give them food/NFIs or cash and vouchers?
The answer is “food/NFIs” till the markets and infrastructure are restored with a joint Government, and Humanitarian community support.
Because, if cash and vouchers were decided in this situation, people will have no way to use the cash/voucher given to them and will face worsening crises of food insecurity, health, and livelihood situation.
One of the reasons, I personally support cash and vouchers (when the market and local conditions are right) is that they can help families restart livelihood activities and move from being dependent to outside support to becoming independent. During the frequent floods in Pakistan between 2010-2013, the humanitarian community in Pakistan implemented and continues to implement several Cash for Work programmes during the recovery phases. While I was working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), I had the opportunity to be the Cash Working Group Coordinator. The Cash Working Group is a consortium of Government, UN agencies, and NGOs in Pakistan to harmonize and improve the planning and implementing cash and voucher-based interventions. The CWG plays an important role in doing joint market assessments and deciding the type of interventions in emergencies/recovery e.g; if families should be receive unconditional cash, conditional cash, vouchers, or participate in Cash for Work for livelihoods. Since Pakistan is an Agriculture-based country and natural disasters over the years have negatively impacted the livelihoods of the farming community, Cash for Work has proved to be a good option and is appreciated by communities since it involves them participating in rehabilitating or building new infrastructure in their communities and then receiving cash or voucher in return of their hard work.
If you would like to read more, I got an opportunity to develop a guideline for the Food Security sector while working with the Cash Working Group. Available here:http://fscluster.org/pakistan/document/guidelines-cash-and-voucher
Here is an informative video from the Logistics Cluster:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXCCFt8QemQ
Masooma Haider – Atlas Corps Fellow (Class 21)
Host: American Red Cross