“During an emergency, cash puts the choice - and the power - into the hands of those people who know what they need; who do not need to be told what they need," says Chris Roles, Director of Age International.
When we think of emergency aid we tend to picture trucks, planes, and boxes full of supplies. But there is another, less familiar, picture. If markets remain open and if essential items can be sourced locally, then distributing cash is an effective, dignified and increasingly common way to provide humanitarian assistance.
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?
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, cash helped 84-year-old Hilaria (below) to replace her sewing machine after her own was swept away during the typhoon that struck the Philippines in 2013.
By giving her cash, Hilaria can make a living. Now she sews school uniforms for local children and she is teaching her daughter the trade. "I do not wish to be rich. As long as I have enough to eat each day, I have no worries," she says. "Thank you for this blessing." Cash, therefore, does not just meet someone's immediate needs. It can also help someone to support themselves in the long run.
The dignity of choice
Natural disasters and conflicts are harrowing experiences for everyone involved. But when we offer choice to individuals - when we say 'you decide what it is that you need most' - then we restore a sense of dignity and independence previously stripped away from them.
Toby Porter, former CEO of our implementing partner HelpAge and member of a High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers, explains: "Older people often face specific challenges during the distribution of relief items. Long waits can be a hardship for the elderly - and perhaps completely impossible - while for those with reduced strength, large, heavy items can be difficult to carry home. But cash puts older women and men back in control: in most towns and villages, goods can be paid for at a store and then delivered to their door."
Read Toby's article about emergency cash in the Guardian >
Cash rebuilds the local economy
Provided local shops or neighbouring villages 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.
"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," Toby Porter explains. "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 Nepal, people bought medicine and food - their first proper meal in quite some time. Some older people - unable to hire their repair their own homes - hired labourers to, telling us afterwards: "Now I know I will be safe and dry when the monsoon comes".
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.