Cash-based responses in emergencies

Cash-based responses in emergencies

Can cash help in emergencies?

People affected by disasters may need external assistance in order to survive and recover. To the extent that this involves transfers to individuals, this assistance can either be provided in-kind, in the form of food aid, shelter materials, seeds or blankets, or it can be provided in cash, enabling people to decide for themselves what they most need, and to buy it in local markets.

This paper is the final product of a three-year research project looking into when the option of giving people money instead of, or as well as, in-kind assistance is feasible and appropriate.

The following areas are considered within the report:

  • an examination of cash-based responses and the appropriateness of cash in different types of emergency context
  • key issues in particular sectors, focusing on cash support for basic needs and access to food, livelihoods recovery, shelter and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and support through cash for work and vouchers
  • implementation issues related to targeting, timing, disbursement mechanisms and managing corruption and security risks
  • how cash-based responses fit into the debate around relief, development and the emerging social protection agenda, and the links between cash responses and other emergency interventions

The author concludes that a strong body of evidence is starting to emerge to indicate that providing people with cash or vouchers works. It is possible to target and distribute cash safely, and people spend money sensibly on basic essentials and on rebuilding livelihoods. Cash transfers can provide a stimulus to local economies, and in some contexts can be more cost-effective than commodity-based alternatives. The author recognises that there are caveats to this conclusion, and cash and vouchers should clearly not be seen as a cure-all or as universally appropriate.