Cash is more secure and more efficient a way to help a hungry person than a package of food

Cash assistance allows families to decide for themselves what they need and when they need it.

Vegetables, fish, clothing, shoes. Bamboo sticks and hay for construction. In many parts of South Sudan, the selection of goods and food on the market is better than it has been in a long time.

The peace treaty has made deliveries easier, even to remote parts of the country. However, few people can afford to buy what they need. More than two million people have run from war within the country, leaving behind everything they had. On top of this, the inflation in South Sudan has raised the price of food sky-high.

In situations like this, aid organisations are increasingly resorting to cash assistance. For example, about 40 percent – a total of 990 million euros – out of the humanitarian aid given out by the European Commission, consists of cash assistance. The assistance is distributed either as cash or as coupons that can be spent on specific products.

”Cash is both more efficient and more cost-effective a way to support people in a humanitarian crisis,” says Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) humanitarian coordinator Moses Habib.

The conclusion is further supported by several studies that have been conducted on the topic. For example, the World Bank and the UN favour cash assistance during the post-crisis recovery phase.

Simply put, handing out cash ensures that a larger percentage of the assistance goes directly to those who need it.

For example, in South Sudan, food needs to be transported all the way from the capital Juba. The storage, transport and ensuring the safety of the transport alone cost a great deal, which decreases the amount of assistance reaching its final destination. The journey on the Nile or by road takes days, and robbers may attack the deliveries.

In South Sudan, FCA has handed out cash assistance in Juba, Old Fangkak, and Yei.

The money is particularly targeted to single mothers. The average family has 6 to 7 members. During FCA’s project, families receive a total of 100 to 150 euros in two to three installments. On the day of delivery, the head of the family arrives on the spot in person to be identified by using their fingerprint.

Cash distributions can prevent aid dependence

The decision to hand out assistance is preceded by a thorough needs assessment regarding how handing out cash will affect the market and the village communities. The village elders help in the assessment process by e.g. evaluating how the circumstances of individual families differ from one another and who has absolutely no safety nets in place.

There are also adverse consequences that are to be taken into consideration. These may include arguments among family members regarding how to spend the money, or an envious neighbour. Therefore, when handing out cash, the aim is to avoid situations in which out of two families living next to each other, one receives an assistance and the other does not.

Indeed, the biggest challenge is choosing who receives assistance. In Old Fangak, FCA has supported 1,000 families, but in reality, all 50,000 inhabitants have suffered from the war. Many families in need of assistance are left without.

Handing out a large amount of cash at once may even have a negative effect on the market. There is a risk of inflation or of merchants hearing of the assistance and then raising their prices.

To avoid situations like this, FCA follows-up carefully how the money is spent after delivery, in cooperation with local authorities. The observations have shown that more than half of the money is spent on food. Furthermore, parents are able to make the choice to feed their children with as much variety as possible.

A considerable number of internally displaced people spend their assistance on building a roof over their head. Moses Habib gives an example of a mother who lived in the yard of another family with her children and was mistreated by the other family. With the help of cash assistance, she was able to construct her very own clay hut for her family.

Cash distributions can also prevent aid dependence. Recipients of regular food assistance may not have the chance to help themselves and might get used to a situation in which they are the recipients of goods. With cash, they may plan their own lives themselves.

Many even save the money for future times of need. For example, farmers set aside money in order to survive a bad harvest. Some buy seeds for farming, or goats to get milk for their family.

It is important that the recipient of the cash is not bound by any conditions.

”For us, the most important thing is to allow people to prioritise their own needs instead of us giving them what we think they need,” says Habib.

Text: Erik Nyström
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho
Illustration: Carla Ladau