South Asia: ODI cash learning project
On 26 December 2004 the largest earthquake in 40 years and the resulting tsunamis devastated coastal communities in 10 nations in Asia and East Africa. A huge relief and recovery aid response is underway with a wide range of national and international actors involved. One of the issues facing actors involved in the response has been what type of assistance it is most appropriate to provide. Humanitarian relief has traditionally been provided overwhelmingly in kind but there is growing interest in the feasibility of cash and voucher-based approaches. These have been seen as potentially particularly relevant in some of the countries affected by the Tsunami, in part due to the presence of relatively well functioning markets and developed economies. Many of the actors involved in the relief response are becoming involved in cash based responses. This includes international NGOs, UN agencies, governments and local civil society.
International NGOs such as Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE, CRS, Mercy Corps International (MCI) and Goal are undertaking cash-based interventions to support livelihood recovery. Donor governments are also playing a leading role in cash based responses and other donors are keen to develop more effective criteria for assessing the appropriateness of cash based responses and making funding decisions. National governments are also both involved in providing cash based support, and are developing policies in sectors such as shelter and livelihoods where cash based responses are part of the overall response. Current and planned interventions in Indonesia for instance include cash for work, grants to individuals and communities and voucher approaches.
In-kind assistance also, of course, continues to play a major role in the relief and recovery response, including food aid, shelter materials, fishing equipment and tools and equipment for support to small businesses. Both agencies and donors need to make decisions about the appropriate mix of cash and inkind assistance.
Most cash-based responses among the large international agencies are being carried out in partnership with local NGOs and finance institutions and capacity-building of such partners is often an additional stated objective of the intervention.
The relative newness of cash and voucher based approaches means that standards, practical programming guidelines and staff with experience of designing, managing and monitoring cash approaches are not widely available. Agencies are therefore grappling with a range of new issues. Aid agencies are also keen that the lessons learnt from these relatively new approaches are documented and shared, both to inform future responses, improve ongoing programming and to inform advocacy strategies around the most effective and appropriate forms of relief.
Individual aid agencies are, however, struggling to cope with the huge scale of the Tsunami response and are all grappling with severe capacity constraints, particularly in human resources. In this context, the time and expertise needed to document experiences, develop robust monitoring and evaluation systems, and develop and share standards, principles and guidelines, is in short supply. Without some form of external support this is likely to lead to the usual pattern of having to prioritise implementation and neglect opportunities for sharing, documenting and learning.
In response to these capacity constraints this project proposes to support aid agencies to learn lessons from cash and voucher based responses. It suggests doing this by making available the expertise of a consultant with expertise in cash based responses and livelihoods approaches to support learning and sharing of experiences between agencies.
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