Azerbaijan: Lessons Learned Workshop Report - Pilot CVA Project in Response to COVID-19 (June 2021)

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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The COVID-19 Pandemic has had detrimental effects not only on community health but also on communities’ access to basic services to meet their basic needs such as education, health, livelihood, and WASH. It damages the economic resilience of people and has a detrimental effect on their well-being.

COVID-19 affected Azerbaijan like all other countries around the globe. As of June 2021, a total of 335.961 positive cases have been recorded in the country, of which 4.973 resulted in death. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalation in September 2020 exacerbated the impact of COVID-19. To support Governments’ efforts in response to the people affected by COVID-19 and the conflict escalation; the Red Crescent Society of Azerbaijan, together with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners, local and international organizations, and UN agencies, has been actively assisting the affected population. Disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic may increase the needs of the population, which Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) can address in an appropriate manner as long as the context allows. CVA enables people to prioritize their needs and affords people to cover their other costs such as transport, rent, utilities, and fees in addition to their basic needs.

As a modality, cash-based interventions (CBI) allow governments and humanitarian actors to implement fast, safe, efficient, and multi-sectorial response programmes in a dignified manner to address diverse needs. Considering the advantages of CVA such as dignity, choice, flexibility, empowerment, cost efficiency, and effectiveness, there is an increasing trend in the humanitarian sector in terms of cash transfer programming. According to “the State of World’s Cash 2020” report by CALP; US $5.6 billion in CVA was programmed which constitutes 17.9% of all international humanitarian assistance in 2019. In two years, it doubled; compared to USD $2.8 billion in 2016. This development is not only showing the increased portion of CVA but is emphasizing the its quality as well.

The Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society is the largest national humanitarian actor and local responder in the country and has fulfilled its role as an auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field for over 100 years. Its mandate is to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people affected by emergencies and disasters through its network, comprising the headquarters, the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic Committee, eight regional centres, 92 local and field branches, and primary organizations. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AzRCS implemented a pilot CVA project with technical support of IFRC and in cooperation with the local authorities.

Pilot Project Overview in Azerbaijan

Within the framework of the IFRC Global COVID-19 Emergency Appeal, the AzRCS implemented a pilot CVA project with technical support of the IFRC. The aim of the project was to assist vulnerable households residing in Baku (381), Ganja (187), Sumgait (197) & Absheron (194) regions of Azerbaijan that were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, 959 households were reached out of the targeted 1000. The average size of household was 4.1 persons, which means up to 4.000 people were assisted through this project. Identification of the intervention areas and obtaining the lists of the targeted individuals were the subject to approval of the public authorities; thus, the AzRCS preferred to implement this project with consent and cooperation of the government.

Azer Post which has a nation-wide coverage and a track record of efficient delivery of postal services both in urban and rural areas, was selected as a financial service provider to distribute the cash through OTC delivery mechanism.

After 11 days of active encashment period, the project cycle continued with the reconciliation and post-distribution monitoring, followed by a lessons learned workshop. Based on the CTP preparedness action, AzRCS assigned a CVA focal point and developed a Technical Cash Working Group in the organization which comprised of 6 people from different functions.(Finance, Information & Public Relations, Volunteer & Youth etc.) The large number of trained volunteers, representing one of the strengths of the AzRCS, was mobilized with the involvement of respective branches, ensuring the smooth and efficient implementation of a highly impactful project.

The cash-based intervention was quite new for the AzRCS team and ensured a relevant and practical exposure to the new modality in which their skills and capacity in CVA were developed and improved. To analyse the implementation of the pilot project, its best practices and challenges, the IFRC and AzRCS conducted a Lessons Learnt Workshop.