An innovative cash transfer programme has helped thousands of families to survive following severe drought in northern Kenya.

The Kenya Red Cross launched the initiative to give struggling families a cash payment of 3,000 Kenya Shillings (approximately 28 Swiss francs). It uses the M-Pesa mobile phone money transfer service. So far it has reached over 41,000 people in 13 counties affected by drought.

Dr Abbas Gullet, Secretary General, Kenya Red Cross, said the cash transfer programme showed promise, and could revolutionise the organization’s work in the future. “Even in very remote parts of the country, mobile phones are widely accessible. It makes it very easy for people to access money. More importantly, it gives them choice and flexibility in how they spend their money,” he said.

Cash transfer programmes give individuals and families more options to manage their own recovery, allowing them to make the best decisions for their circumstances.

Is cash transfer the future?

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said research showed that cash transfer would grow to be a vital part of the humanitarian response to hunger in Africa. “It’s better for the people in need of help. It’s cheaper and more efficient for aid agencies to implement,” she said. “And it puts money back into local economies – into the hands of shopkeepers and traders that are key to ensuring the recovery of communities.”

Assessments following the programme have shown it has a profound impact on families, with those receiving cash reporting they were eating more often and having more diverse menus.

An evaluation of the Red Cross’s drought programme has found that families receiving mobile cash are eating more often, and from a more diverse menu. More than 60 per cent of families involved report they can afford three or more meals per day compared to 20 per cent before the cash transfer initiative began.

People across Kenya are experiencing significant food insecurity as a result of the drought which has hit the whole region. A recent emergency appeal is seeking over 25 million Swiss francs to provide urgent humanitarian support to over 1 million people.