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Bangladesh: Giving communities the freedom of choice via cash grants

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By Farjana Sultana (IFRC) & S. M. Taslim Reza (Bangladesh Red Crescent Society)

Meat is a luxury for people who have fled violence in Rakhine state and who are now living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Many of them live on a diet of rice, lentils, seasonal vegetables, spices, wheat and dry fish, most of which are food they are not used to eating. But for Abdul Aziz, a cash grant from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has allowed him to purchase meat and other food for his family.

“Now I will be able to buy some good food for my family,” says Aziz with a big smile on his face. “I can buy meat for my children as they are very fond of it.”

The Red Crescent has distributed 5,500 Bangladeshi Taka (around 64 Swiss francs or 64 US dollars) to around 3,100 people in Burmapara, Cox’s Bazar. This support will allow them to purchase goods and spend money on items that they need based on their own choosing. This unconditional cash assistance was delivered through the Bangladesh Post Office and is part of the Red Cross Population Movement Operation in Cox’s Bazar.

“I feel very happy receiving this cash assistance. Now I can buy some good food for my pregnant daughter-in-law,” says 35-year-old Rasheda Begum (dressed in beige shawl), who is head of her family household. “I can also buy some chickens and ducks and raise them at home so that I can sell the eggs.”

Cash also means that they will not have to sell the relief items such as blankets, utensils and the toiletries they have received to support their immediate needs. The cash grant was distributed based on several criteria, focusing on families with pregnant and lactating women, women-led households, people with disabilities, households without adults, and the elderly.

“Providing cash to the most vulnerable communities will allow them to meet their most urgent needs while having the freedom of choosing what they wish to purchase,” says Md. Feroz Salah Uddin, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. “We are looking forward to extending this kind of support to other communities in Cox’s Bazar as well, who have also been affected by the crisis.”

The IFRC has been utilizing cash transfer programmes to support vulnerable communities as part of its commitment in the Grand Bargain, which is an agreement between major donors and humanitarian agencies to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and reach of humanitarian action in a number of ways.

“Communities in different parts of Bangladesh have been receiving cash transfers during emergencies like flooding to help them recover. Now we are initiating the same process in Cox’s Bazar for people displaced by the violence in Rakhine and will follow that up by supporting the surrounding communities in Bangladesh,” says Azmat Ulla, head of country office for the IFRC in Bangladesh. “This kind of programme will enhance learning opportunities between people living in the camps and surrounding communities and allow them to share a community building experience.”