The Red Cross cash transfers reached 4.5 per cent of the population in Swaziland

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More than 58 000 people suffering from the drought received food thanks to cooperation between the Finnish Red Cross and the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross, financed by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid.

Eastern and Southern parts of Africa have been suffering from drought for a couple of years already. In 2015-2016, the drought hit hard Swaziland. In the beginning of this year, many local farmers had lost their income. There was a lot of pressure towards the Red Cross, remembers Danger Nhlabatsi, Secretary General of the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross.

“However, we were lucky because we had the Finnish Red Cross as our partner – for 15 years already.”

The Finnish Red Cross applied and received EU humanitarian aid funding for a project, whose goal was to offer food for 9 800 families, altogether 58 000 people, through cash transfers. The project took place in 8 constituencies of Swaziland from April 2016 till March 2017.

Cash transfer, distributed by mobile money, is a different and still quite unknown mechanism to help people who have lost their income.

“Cash transfer programme through mobile money are relatively new in Swaziland. Everyone was a bit suspicious in the beginning, but little by little also the Swaziland government got enthusiastic and asked the Red Cross to collect all the possible information for future”, Nhlabatsi explains.

People were also afraid that the prices would go up a lot when the local vendors of maize and other food items would hear that cash is distributed in the area.

“However, the reverse was true. We encouraged local vendors to come to the place where we distributed cash. They came in numbers, which helped to control theprices. In the end, prices were even lower in the zone of cash distributions than in the neighboring marketplaces and supermarkets.”

Also the doubt whether the money would actually be used to buy food turned out to be in vain, as 96 per cent of the cash transfers were used to purchase food.

“The lesson was that we shouldn't worry too much. Things begin to sort out themselves”, Nhlabatsi ponders.

Cash transfer – both effective and popular

The local beneficiaries were enthusiastic about cash transfers. Before the distributions they were thoroughly explained by the Red Cross what the project was about.

One of the beneficiaries was Sibongile Mbhamali and her family, whose life had become almost impossible because of the drought. The family could not plant seeds at the right time because rains never arrived.

“We received the cash transfer at a critical moment, when we did not know what to do anymore. I was anxious about feeding my family. The aid has been a great relief for us.”

“When the SMS about the cash transfer arrived, I jumped up in the middle of the night and started to dance. I could not wait for the morning, when I was able to buy food for my family”, Mbhamali tells.

Further, the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross and a local university established a complaint mechanism in the form of a “hotline”, where beneficiaries could call, give feedback and get answers to their questions.

“Everyone was in favour of this system. People felt they could talk openlyas the line was managed by the university and not the Red Cross. Further, the mechanism kept us on our toes”, Nhlabatsi says with a smile.

“During our lessons learnt session we asked the beneficiaries whether they would prefer general food distributions or cash transfers. Out of 56 people, everyone was in favor of cash transfers.”

As a mechanism, cash transfer has many advantages. Itis very cost-effective, straightforward and simple.

In the context of Swaziland, the reach of the EU financed project was huge. Cash transfers benefited 4,5 per cent of the population of the country.

Further, the skills and knowledge gained through the project and cooperation with the Finnish Red Cross will benefit the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross for a long time.

“The project not only gave us new capacity and skills but it has lifted up the Swaziland Red Cross. Today, a number of partners want to cooperate with us and also the private sector contacts us and wants to donate to the Red Cross. We are confident that in the future we are able to handle a project of this nature without many challenges”, Nhlabatsi considers.

However, drought is still a problem in some parts of Swaziland.

“There are pockets where communities did not receive much rain and are still struggling. We are currently conducting a national assessment to estimate the situation.”

Text: Anna-Sofia Joro