afrol News, 27 September - Despite countless emergency aid efforts and models, Niger's drought and flood victims still go hungry. Now, several aid agencies will go back to basics, providing families with cash handouts.
Emergency aid earlier often included massive airborne imports of food - often grains from surplus storages - and clothes. As it was found that such imports, handed out for free, ruined local agricultural markets, aid agencies strived to buy food products locally.
But can it be made even easier, empowering food insecure families and local food markets to decide for themselves how to get out of the crisis? Why not just hand out cash to the drought affected families?
This is exactly what the Nigerien government, UNICEF, Care and Save the Children will do in a three-month pilot project. In their concerted effort to help some 30,560 drought affected families in Niger, every woman in the most affected areas - with at least one child aged between 6-23 months - will receive cash transfers of CFA 20,000 (euro 30) a month.
The payments are being made to cover a period at the end of the lean season when families have already experienced several months of extreme shortages before the October harvest.
"This is a pilot intervention to protect the nutritional status of children and to stop them from further falling into the pit of malnutrition. The implications for how we give aid are enormous," says Guido Cornale, UNICEF's Niger representative.
"This could be a tool that provides powerful ammunition against such crises in the future." Cash transfers can save time and be more cost effective than traditional food interventions while allowing families to make choices, the UN agency holds in its assessment of the back-to-basics aid pilot project.
But the drought affected Nigerien families will not be left completely to themselves after receiving the cash handout. The scheme is to run in conjunction with a blanket feeding food distribution that is being carried out by the government of Niger, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and other international humanitarian organisation.
The new cash transfer programme has been discussed since June this year, when it was clear that emergency aid responses to Niger's disastrous drought were coming late and would be too small compared to the scale of the crisis. Some 7.8 million Nigeriens at the time were described as food-insecure. Since then, massive floods have made the situation even more difficult.
The WFP at that stage was considering cash handouts as a possible way of getting the massive emergency aid campaign started. The WFP in Niger observed that it would take too long time to get a full-scale operation started, considering cash distributions as a possible way of empowering the most affected on a short-time basis.
The Nigerien government also was positive to the initiative, saying it would have both cash and emergency food stocks to hand out among the hungry for some months, while the WFP and other agencies waited for donors to come forward and sponsor the operation.
Only some minor humanitarian aid organisations, among them Concern Worldwide, started handing out cash at this stage. Concern had already had positive experiences with this type of aid in Kenyan slums. In addition to targetting the the most vulnerable with cash, this kin of aid also was "enabling the market sellers to earn and generate an income," Concern had found.
Among the main aid agencies in Niger, however, uncertainties over the access to cash and over the possibilities of later repayments from donors stopped the initiative in June. Now, as the emergency aid operation in Niger is better funded, the idea resurfaced in the form of a pilot project.
According to information made available to afrol News, several of the agencies operating in Niger were disappointed that the proposed cash handout project was not carried out already in June-July, when it was most needed. At that time, a very quick response was needed, and the delay in the project may have cost lives, the source holds.
Finally being approved by all actors at the Niger emergency aid scene, the cash handout pilot project now at least will be tested for its feasibility in upcoming food crises. In all its elegant simplicity, the aid method may become an integrated tool in handling further crises if the assessments are positive.
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