Adaptable and effective: Cash in the face of multi-dimensional crisis
A summary of the learnings and recommendations from an internal and external evaluation of the Emergency Cash-First Response to Drought-Affected Communities in the Southern Provinces of Zimbabwe project which was carried out from August 2015 to May 2017. The external evaluation was carried out by Oxford Policy Management and is titled Zimbabwe ‘Cash First’ Humanitarian Response 2015-17.
What is cash transfer programming?
Cash transfer programming is the practice of providing cash/vouchers rather than in-kind aid such as clothes or food. An increasing body of evidence shows that cash transfers are one of the most timely, efficient, empowering and impactful ways to deliver humanitarian aid in disaster-prone and crisis-affected communities.
Consequently, cash transfer programmes are increasingly being recognised in poverty reduction and social protection strategies as a key way to build a more resilient and equal world.
Global context: cash transfers transform lives
Today, 130 low- and middle-income countries implement at least one non-contributory unconditional cash transfer (UCT) programme, with a further 63 countries having at least one conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme as part of their social protection systems. Such programmes are increasingly popular in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40 out of 48 countries now have a UCT programme – double the number in 2010.
Yet the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) estimates that only six per cent of global humanitarian aid is delivered as cash-based assistance.1 This is despite the growing availability of cash delivery infrastructure – as well as evidence from both humanitarian and longer-term development programmes that cash transfers can have a significant impact on the lives of vulnerable individuals and families.
The evidence shows that cash transfers: reduce monetary poverty; increase women’s decision-making power and choices; raise school attendance; reduce child labour; stimulate health service use; improve dietary diversity; and foster beneficiaries’ economic autonomy.
Emergency cash programming has been developed to play a key role in both preventing and responding to emerging crises before and after they hit. In recognition of cash’s effectiveness and potential, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul saw the international community vow to increase cash as a proportion of humanitarian spend.
Lessons from cash transfer programming in Zimbabwe
CARE International in consortium with World Vision International (WVI) in Zimbabwe implemented a Department for International Development (DFID)-funded project, Emergency Cash-First Response to DroughtAffected Communities in the Southern Provinces of Zimbabwe, from August 2015 to May 2017. The project’s objective was to enhance the food security and reduce the negative coping strategies of vulnerable and droughtaffected households in four provinces: Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Masvingo and Midlands.
Fifteen districts were selected in these provinces.
The project’s specific desired outcome was to ensure that beneficiaries could cope with food shocks and meet their basic food needs during the 2015/16 and 2017/18 agricultural periods.
This programme is the first time that cash transfers have been used as a large-scale alternative to food aid in Zimbabwe and the first large-scale provision of cash transfers through mobile money.
A time of crisis in Zimbabwe
From 2015, Zimbabwe was facing severe drought driven by one of the strongest El Niño events of the last three decades. The drought reduced households’ subsistence production and income, constrained livelihood options and severely limited access to food, resulting in livestock deaths. In February 2016, a state of national disaster was declared with 4.1 million people projected to be food insecure between January and March 2017. At the same time, a liquidity crisis emerged, resulting in a depletion of cash nationally and a consequent rise in mobile money. Despite this context of multi-dimensional crisis, the cash transfer programme achieved significant impact at both the individual and the community level.
Why cash in Zimbabwe?
Worsening food security status and projections of crop deficits indicated the need for a food assistance intervention in Zimbabwe’s southern provinces. The decision to use cash transfers was based on an initial market assessment, evidence that Zambia would have an exportable surplus, and analysis that food aid had been inappropriate in previous responses. The main objective was to meet immediate food needs, and the agencies concluded that mobile money continued to be appropriate because people could purchase food with it through merchant payments and person-to-person (P2P) transfers.