Deborah buying a mattress in the fair organized by NRC. Photo: NRC/DRC

Cash assistance provides lifeline for displaced families

Odette Asha|Published 21. Jul 2015
Deborah is delighted. The aid arrived at exactly the right moment. I bought what was really needed for the well-being of my family: A mattress, clothes, soap, two jerrycans, plates, pots and pans, and food," she recounted.

She is one of the 595 people from Mangina, North Kivu, who received NRC emergency cash and voucher assistance in March.

Deborah, 23 year old internally displaced woman. Deborah has arrived in Mangina village, her vouchers in hands – the equivalent of 80 dollars for buying food and 55 dollars for non-food items – ready to buy what she needs for her family in a fair organized by Norwegian Refugee Council.

Armed groups

About four months ago, she had her own business selling tomatoes, and was living comfortably in Oicha, north of Beni, North Kivu.

Today, she is displaced near Mangina, living with a family who was willing to take her in after her life was turned upside down by armed groups who killed many people in her village. Life is not easy for Deborah. She now lives in a single room with her husband and five children, and has to work hard to find food for her family and pay the $6 monthly rent to her host family.

Pregnant and displaced

«I didn't take anything out of the house. We fled with just the clothes on our backs in fear of being killed like my neighbour – a pregnant woman who was decapitated» remembers Deborah, tears swelling in her eyes. Deborah, was eight months pregnant in November when she fled Oicha.

The night before she left, three neighboring families were killed with machetes by unknown armed men. Seeing the bodies the next day created enormous fear among the population of Oicha, as people worried the men were coming back. Deborah had just enough time to gather her two children and run away with her in-laws. She walked for two days to reach Mangina.

The unconditional vouchers increased flexibility and choice – for their own needs prioritization.

Multiple needs

The assessment done in Mangina by humanitarian actors in February 2015 showed that both the more than 800 displaced households and the local community hosting them had multiple and varied needs arising from the influx of people: food, non-food items, healthcare, educational support, and shelter.

By having one market for both food and non-food items, as well as providing unconditional cash vouchers, NRC is able to offer more flexibility to beneficiaries, allowing them to prioritize their essential needs and make purchases accordingly. NRC staff encouraged beneficiaries to buy only what was decided in consultation with their families before the fair, to diversify their purchases, and not be influenced by vendors or others beneficiaries' choices.

"The unconditional vouchers offer maximum flexibility and give beneficiaries the possibility of meeting their most urgent needs," confirms Mickael Amar, NRC DRC's Country Director.

Able to survive

During a rapid evaluation carried out during the fair, most beneficiaries who prioritized non-food items said that their choice was related to the durability of items. It will facilitate their living conditions during their displacement and they can take these items back home if the situation improves in their villages.

Moreover, they were typically items that would be normally be prohibitively expensive. Food, on the other hand, can be more accessible. Even if people are forced to live from day to day, they are able to buy food for relatively little money when they are able to work, or they can be paid for work in food. While it may not be of the highest quality, they are able to survive.

"I can understand why most beneficiaries are buying non-food items. They are of good quality, and they are things that most people cannot buy with the same one dollar which they can use to buy food," said the Administrative chief of Mangina district, who was visiting the fair.

Problems with access

This is the first humanitarian assistance provided to the displaced since they arrived in Mangina, in November 2014. Due to the ongoing insecurity in the zone, humanitarians were only able to get to the area as of beginning of January. By the time the humanitarians arrived, people were living in extremely precarious conditions.

With cash, beneficiaries can get what they cannot buy with voucher during a fair

"Supplementary cash is distributed to allow beneficiaries to respond to the needs which cannot be met directly by purchasing what is available at the fair," said Mickael Amar.

Deborah used 10 dollars to pay the hospital fees where she was treated for complications after a home birth. The remaining $15 of the $25 she received will help her to restart the small business she had before leaving her village. She hopes that selling tomatoes will help her provide food for her children.

"My children will be able to eat whenever they are hungry. But I am afraid I will not be able to send them back to school. They will lose this school-year," concludes Deborah with a mix of joy and disappointment in her face.

Funded by ECHO

This multi sector market – through which beneficiaries have full flexibility on how to use the cash vouchers that were provided to them – was a first experience for NRC and was considered a overwhelming success.

Organized by the Norwegian Refugee Council, assistance provided in the one-voucher fair was funded by ECHO (emergency food and unconditional cash) and UNICEF (non-food items), through the Rapid Response to the Movements of Populations (RRMP) mechanism.