Let’s help poor families put food on the table
By Victor Koyi
| Sep 3rd 2020 | 3 min read
As countries across Africa grapple with the Covid-19, many governments and humanitarian organisations are implementing cash transfer programmes to support poor families.
With the widespread use of mobile money in many countries, cash transfer is the better option for supporting families during this difficult period. Unlike other programmes such as food distribution, cash transfers are cost-efficient and almost corruption-free because funds go directly to beneficiaries leaving out middlemen. Manual cash and food distribution are risky, costly and makes social distancing difficult.
Unfortunately, due to limited resources, most cash transfer programmes are operating at a small or medium scale, reaching only a limited number of needy people, yet many more are struggling to meet basic needs such as food.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the coronavirus pandemic will see more than a quarter a billion people suffering acute hunger by the end of 2020. Latest numbers from WFP indicate that the lives and livelihoods of 265 million people in low and middle-income countries will be under severe threat unless swift action is taken to tackle the pandemic, up from the current 135 million.
In a bid to mitigate the socio-economic hardships imposed by Covid-19 on poor families, ChildFund is implementing an unconditional cash transfer programme in nine countries in Africa. To date, the organisation has disbursed over 1,854,134 dollar to 76,685 families in Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique. Each family receives an average of 30 dollars every month to help them meet basic needs. In Kenya, 8,691 families in 15 counties have benefited from the programme totalling to 201,361 dollars to date. Some 2,450 e-vouchers worth 30 dollars each were also issued to 1,350 families in informal settlements in Nairobi to buy water tanks and soap.
These are families struggled to feed themselves even before Covid-19 and have now lost incomes because of the pandemic and restrictions to contain its spread. Unfortunately, this initiative is a drop in the ocean, given the remaining population that needs to be supported.
The benefits of cash transfer programmes cannot be overstated. It goes beyond physical nourishment when families have food or the peace they get when they can pay rent. Cash transfers can also ensure the protection of children, especially young girls. There has been a surge in teenage pregnancies since schools were closed. Some of these are cases of sex in exchange for food or money to buy necessities such as sanitary towels. Responsible parents with cash are more likely to be able to provide for their children.
Based on what this programme has achieved so far, there is need to scale it up to reach more deserving families. But before we do so, we must address the challenges cash transfer programmes face.
First, we must acknowledge that not everyone has a phone. As cheap as we may think phones are today, there are still poor people who cannot afford the cheapest phone. Such beneficiaries should be supported with phones so that they are not left out.
In addition, the identification of beneficiaries should not exacerbate inequalities. Persons with disabilities should be prioritised and gender gaps taken into consideration. Common stereotypes such as the notion that most men, if registered as recipients will ‘drink’ the money while women will put family priorities first, should be avoided. While this may be true in some cases, it is not always the norm. Some women also have the wrong priorities.
Community participation is also critical. Local leaders should be involved in identification of beneficiaries. These leaders should be people of integrity who will not demand a cut from beneficiaries.
Cash transfers not only help to put food on the table but also support the recovery of livelihoods, protection of children and increase access to healthcare services. In this regard, it should be an ongoing feature of how poor families are supported. Stakeholders, including governments and humanitarian organisations should jointly develop strategies to expand and sustain cash transfer programmes that work towards alleviating poverty and building sustainable livelihoods. Working together will ensure organisations avoid duplication and increase coverage so that the money reaches the people who need it the most as fast as possible.
Mr Koyi is Africa Regional Director, ChildFund International
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