Cash-based interventions are transforming the way humanitarian aid is being delivered. We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of cash globally by 40 per cent between 2015 and 2016 (State of the World’s Cash Report, 2018). At least 28 countries in Africa have had some experience with cash-based interventions through vouchers, direct cash and mobile money; reporting that it is a much more efficient, timely and dignified way to support communities.

Cash not only provides an efficient and timely way to respond to the unique and complex needs of communities but even more importantly, gives dignity and power the people we serve so that they can respond to their own relief and recovery needs. We are increasingly using cash in our response to food insecurity, empowering communities to invest in their farms and businesses, ultimately encouraging an increase in production and economic access to food.

Southern Africa

In Southern Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe have adopted some form of cash-based intervention, the most common being the distribution of e-money over a mobile network. In countries like Zimbabwe, cash transfers are combined with other basic needs, such as seeds.

Following the impact of a severe El Nino-induced drought, many farming communities in Zimbabwe have had disappointing harvests, leaving many without enough food or money for the year. Solomon and Tarisai have received cash and seeds with the help of the Zimbabwe Red Cross – this will be enough money now to get their family at least a meal a day for the next two months, plus ten kilos of sorghum seeds to plant.

Photo: Victor Lacken/IFRC

West Africa

The Nigeria Red Cross has supported more than 5,500 internally displaced people and returnees facing food insecurity in the north-east (Adamawa and Yobe States) through direct cash.

The Sahel region, where reoccurring droughts and floods – in addition to population movement – has had a severe impact on its population, leaving some 32 million people at risk of or struggling with food security. Vouchers have been key to increasing people’s access to food.

The Senegalese Red Cross distributed food vouchers to nearly 10,000 people in late 2017. Irene Coulibaly, 42, is one of the people now receiving this much-needed support. Like many families in the area, she relies mainly on rain-fed agriculture to survive. With the support from the Red Cross, she has bought rice, sugar, oil, beans and salt.

“These rations mean a lot for me, especially for my children. This will help us survive for some weeks as there is a critical lack of food during the lean season.”

Photo: Moustapha Diallo/IFRC

East Africa

More than 252,000 people were reached through mobile cash transfers in Kenya, where more than 2.7 million people were food insecure following two consecutive failed seasonal rains.

The Kenya Red Cross Society has given monthly grants of 3,000 Kenya Shillings (about 28 Swiss francs) to more than 41,000 drought-affected families. The money is primarily transferred using the widely used M-Pesa mobile phone-based money transfer service. 60 per cent of families reported they could afford enough meals per day compared to 20 per cent before a Red Cross cash transfer initiative began.

Photo: Pierre Grandidier/IFRC

Cash is likely to be a growing part of humanitarian action with an estimated $4 billion invested over the next 3 to 5 years. IFRC will continue to explore new opportunities to provide cash to the people we serve, allowing us to address the needs of the most vulnerable families in a holistic manner.