Cordaid recently concluded its multipurpose cash support to 1200 Ethiopian households in the Amhara and Somali regions. The support allows families to deal longer with the devastating effects of COVID-19 restrictions and other challenges. “We successfully adapted our cash distribution to on the ground realities,” Ahmed Mohammed explains.
In September 2020, the Dutch Relief Alliance launched its Ethiopia COVID-19 Joint response. Its goal was to support Ethiopia's hardest-hit communities in dealing with the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. And in preventing further spread of the virus.
COVID-19 severely compounds other crises
Cordaid, one of its members, decided to provide multipurpose cash assistance to low- and no-income households in Somali and Amhara regions. In both regions, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically compounded existing challenges of violence, displacement, as well as floodings and droughts.
"To survive, families without financial reserves have to sell their products or services on the market or in shops. COVID-restrictions forced them to stay home." Ahmed Mohammed, Humanitarian Programme Lead
"The past year, outbursts of violence in the Somali region have forcibly displaced large groups of people," says Ahmed Mohammed, Cordaid's Humanitarian Programme Lead based in Addis Ababa. "And more recently political unrest and violence have also flared up in Amhara," he adds.
Covid-19 mobility restrictions particularly impacted displaced and poverty-stricken households. "Families without financial reserves, rely on daily work. To survive, they have to sell their products or services on the market or in shops. COVID-restrictions forced them to stay home, taking away the little income they had," Mohammed says.
More cash, fewer distribution rounds
In Somali, Cordaid and its Ethiopian partner OWDA identified 600 households who were in a particularly dire situation. "We reached out to those whose needs were highest and whose networks of support and safety were minimal. People with disabilities, elderly people without a pension, single women who raise families. Young people without parental support. Five consecutive months they received 1,300 Birr and the fifth month 2,600. Because of COVID-19, we doubled the last amount, allowing us to reduce the number of distribution rounds."
Provided there's enough local food production and supplies are sufficient, cash or voucher support is preferred over food item distribution. "It allows people to decide for themselves how to spend their money and which needs to address. Also, it's cost-efficient and it stimulates the local economy", says Daphne Mulder, Cordaid's Cash and Voucher Assistance Expert.
One of the supported people in Somali is Taman Hassan. She lives in the town of Gode. When her husband succumbed to a chronic disease, she was left with no income and five young children to take care of. Market prices had skyrocketed due to Covid-19. The family's food consumption dropped dramatically. Even buying water proved hard. "I didn't know where or how to find food for my children," she says. "This support gave me hope. It saved my family."
Combining cash distribution and COVID-19 prevention
The multi-purpose cash support in Amhara and Somali Regions was adapted both to Covid-19 requirements and to the geographical context.
"In Amhara, with our Ethiopian partner OWDA, we transferred the money from the bank in Addis Ababa to a microfinance institution. From there, they drove the money to branch offices in more remote areas, using security boxes. We reduced the number of distribution rounds to minimize physical contact. Food item distribution would have involved more transportation, more logistics, increasing both the price and the physical contact," Mulder explains.
"Cash support allows people to decide for themselves how to spend their money and which needs to address. Also, it's cost-efficient and it stimulates the local economy." Daphne Mulder, Cash and Voucher Assistance Expert
During the distribution rounds, households who benefitted from the cash support also received face masks, hand sanitizer, and other COVID-19 prevention and hygiene items. Cash distribution rounds that allowed people to deal better with the impact of COVID-19 restrictions also served as awareness-raising and prevention sessions to stop the virus from spreading.
In the city
In the Somali Region, where the people we supported live in a more urban setting, Cordaid organised its cash support in a totally different way. "For each person we supported, and their family, we opened a bank account," says Mohammed. "Unlike in Amhara, the available banking services allowed for that. In Amhara, distances to financial service providers were too long for the elderly or people with disabilities. In Gode, Somali Region, people live in an urban setting, making it much easier and safer for them to withdraw money from their accounts."
People spent most of the cash support on food. "Both to increase the quantity and the quality of the food. But they also use it to pay school fees, to cover medical costs, and to pay for transportation," adds Mohammed.
"Europe is well on its way to full vaccination coverage. But here in Ethiopia, hardly 2% of the people have been vaccinated." Ahmed Mohammed
Both in Amhara and Somali, Cordaid also provides health care as well as water and sanitation support. "We have provided health facilities in the regions with personal protection equipment, such as goggles, gloves, face masks. And we have trained medical staff in dealing with the pandemic and provided medical equipment, for example, to screen Covid-19," he says.
Seeking donor support to continue
The six-month cash support intervention in Amhara and Somali Regions was concluded on June 6th. "We are now trying to find donor support to continue. Because the situation remains alarming," Mohammed maintains.
"Europe is well on its way to full vaccination coverage. But here in Ethiopia, hardly 2% of the people have been vaccinated. The virus continues to spread and restrictive measures and increasing market prices continue to cripple communities. This contributes to severe levels of food insecurity in Amhara and surrounding regions"
The cascading effects of the Tigray conflict
Apart from the pandemic, its economic effects, and climate-related crises, Ethiopia is also grappling with the devastating armed conflict in Tigray. Cordaid, as part of the Dutch Relief Alliance, is also responding to humanitarian needs in that region. The Tigray conflict has cascading effects throughout Ethiopia. These effects include population displacements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of harvest and livelihood assets, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets.
"To survive, people need to leave their homes, earn a daily income, and produce or find food. As long as the pandemic, insecurity, and displacement hit these families, we need to stand with them. Wherever the vulnerability of people is high, we have to reach out to them. And cash support, as we have seen in Amhara and Somali regions in the past half-year, is a very effective modality of humanitarian support," Mohammed concludes.