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We helped Kanchi rebuild her house after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

During an emergency, cash puts the choice - and the power - into the hands of those people who know what they need.

When we think of emergency aid we tend to picture trucks, planes, and boxes full of supplies. But if people are still able to find essential items in local markets, then distributing cash is an effective, dignified and increasingly common way to provide humanitarian assistance. Cash transfers are:

  • One of the most efficient ways to make sure older people get exactly what they need
  • A dignified form of aid which empowers the recipient 
  • An investment in local markets & traders - it keeps economies going 

People aren’t ‘one size fits all’ – why should aid be?

Tarka and Bir used their cash grant to pay for Bir's hospital fees when he was injured following the earthquake

Pictured: Tarka and Bir received a cash grant after the Nepal earthquake, which ended up saving Bir's life.

Some needs during an emergency are universal, which is why we give out things like food packages and shelter materials. But others are totally unique to individuals and their circumstances. For example, when 67 year-old Bir was injured after the earthquake in Nepal, the couple's cash grant allowed them to pay his hospital fees.

"The money we received paid for my husband's medicine and hospital fees," explains Tarka, who is also 67. "It saved his life!"

The dignity of choice 

Natural disasters and conflicts are harrowing experiences. But when we allow individuals to decide what they need most, we restore a sense of dignity and independence.

Saran used her cash transfer to buy food and a gas cylinder after the earthquake destroyed her crops

Pictured: 63 year-old Saran used her cash transfer buy food after the Nepal earthquake destoryed her crops

Saran also received a cash grant after the Nepal earthquake. She used it to replace her damaged crops, and to buy a gas cylinder to cook with. "I was very happy to receive cash," says Saran. "Cash was particularly good because it meant we could buy what we needed, and when we needed it."

Cash rebuilds the local economy

If local shops are still standing following a disaster, cash is one of the quickest ways to get essential items to people in need. It is much faster to move supplies from village to village, than it is to move them half-way around the world, via closed airports and blocked roads.

Kanchi hired someone to help her build her house

Pictured: Kanchi used part of her cash transfer to hire someone to help her rebuild her home after the earthquake in Nepal

"Cash spent locally and on useful things has a positive impact on the economy, and can greatly assist the process of markets re-establishing themselves," former HelpAge CEO, Toby Porter, explains in an article for the Guardian. "Money in the hands of the most vulnerable disaster victims has been shown to support traders all the way down the supply chain."

How it works

Step 1: Our local partners on the ground asses the nature of the emergency - who needs help and what kind of help. This is called an assesment of needs.  

Step 2: If cash is the most effective way to help, then our staff and partners will distribute it directly to the most vulnerable older people.

Step 3: We review and monitor how the money has been spent and how efficent our programme has been. Anything we learn will be taken forward to the next emergency.  

Making sure cash isn't abused

We track all of our cash programmes around the world and strictly monitor what the money has been spent on.

Fears that people will spend the money on ‘negative products’ such as alcohol and tobacco are almost never found to be justified. Instead, people buy food, medicine, shelter and all kinds of other essential items.

In 2016, a panel of experts from the Centre for Global Development (CGD) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) carried out detailed research on cash transfer programmes and concluded that 'cash transfers are among the most well-researched and rigorously-evaluated humanitarian tools of the last decade.'

When it is more effective to distribute aid packages, we will always do so. In Gaza we have delivered thousands of hygiene kits and walking aids. In the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan, we distributed food packages that older people could open and carry easily. But, when cash is the best solution, that is what we will deliver. 

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