The Transformative Power of Cash Assistance

calendar iconAug 23, 2023


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has provided cash-based assistance to tackle emergencies and humanitarian crises since 2008, and its latest report paints an encouraging picture of how rapid and targeted delivery of physical currency to people in need supports them in making positive changes to their own lives, those of their families, and the communities in which they live.

A post from Edith Heines, Director of the WFP’s Cash-based Transfers Division, highlights the steady expansion in outreach from $10,000 of cash assistance provided to one million people across ten countries in 2009 up to delivering $3.3 billion to 56 million people in 72 countries as of 2022.

Cash offers immediate aid, is usable by everyone—regardless of age or technical knowledge—and will work in the absence of electricity or an internet connection, making it especially useful for disaster response. Using it also supports local economies, since it continues to circulate—moving physically from hand to hand—rather than value being transferred to third parties in other cities or even other countries.

The WFP emphasises that, with cash-based assistance, it can transfer money directly to those who need it. Another benefit of cash—and a key part of their work—is that it can be spent anywhere, to purchase any goods or services an individual chooses. This personal freedom, and ability to decide when and how to spend money, or whether to save it towards a future goal, is central to placing people at the centre of the project.

A video in Heines’ post tells the stories of some recipients of cash assistance, and how it has empowered them to improve their situations. Halima is an entrepreneur and single parent living in a Somalian camp for displaced people. She started her business with money she saved from that provided by the WFP and now helps supply goods to her local community. In Jordan, Reham withdraws the cash she needs on a daily basis to support her and her family, for which she is responsible following her father’s death and her mother’s illness. She is saving what she can towards buying the education she had to put on hold.

Thérèse, in the Central African Republic, is a single parent raising twin girls. Speaking of her struggles to keep the family safe in times of conflict, she asked: ‘If you have no money, if you have nothing, how will you live with your children?’ In Dominica, business owner Tracy struggled to keep her fish shop open during the pandemic, but has remained afloat thanks to relief money. Her daughter Makala explains: ‘My mummy was grumpy all the time. But then she was happy because she was getting money, and she could do what she had to do.’

Speaking of the importance of cash-based assistance in self-determination, Daad in Lebanon hopes that, in future, all women will be granted the opportunities money brings.

I wish that every mother—every woman, even my daughter—can be responsible for herself, and have something in her hand. I want them to take their own decisions and learn how to manage their own affairs, and build a project so that they earn enough to cover their needs.
"Daad, Lebanon
Last Updated: Aug 23, 2023