Give people cash, not goods, to make humanitarian aid more effective

14 September 2015

Humanitarian assistance could be more effective, more efficient and more transparent if aid was given in the form of cash directly to people struggling to survive in crises, according to a high-level panel of experts in a new report published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Center for Global Development (CGD).

Providing cash means that limited humanitarian aid can go further to help more people in need. That means greater value for money for taxpayers. Cash is also less wasteful as it means aid recipients can decide for themselves exactly what they most need.

The panel found that cash-based aid programmes can improve accountability and transparency of aid while also helping to support local markets and industries.

“Humanitarian organisations owe it to aid recipients and taxpayers to deliver the best possible aid programmes. As the report outlines, cash transfers have the potential to reduce vulnerability, help rebuild lives, and deliver value for money. As part of a broader menu that includes partnerships with the private sector, investment in digital technology, and the development of a more inclusive humanitarian system, cash transfers can transform the effectiveness of humanitarian aid at a time of unprecedented need,” said Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of ODI.

“The nature of humanitarian crises is changing. More people are in need and for longer. There is now compelling evidence that giving cash is often better for the people affected by disaster and better value for money for donors. It should be central to crisis response. We should always be asking ‘why not cash?’ and ‘if not now, when?’”, said Owen Barder, Senior Fellow at CGD and chair of the High Level Panel.

Aid organisations are starting to give more cash. But cash and vouchers together account for only about 6% of humanitarian aid, given out by a variety of competing agencies.

Doing cash differently: how cash transfers can transform humanitarian aid”, written by the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers, identifies 12 crucial steps to scaling up cash aid programmes, including capitalising on digital technology and private sector expertise and opening up programmes to greater competition.

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To interview the report authors, contact Melanie Archer at [email protected] at +44(0)77 0818 2027 or Tania Cheung at [email protected] or +44 (0)20 7922 0348.

Notes to editors:

The High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers was commissioned by the UK’s Department for International Development and is supported by a secretariat based at ODI.

It is estimated that up to 60 million people around the world, equivalent to almost 80% of the UK population, have fled their homes due to conflict or disaster. The average length a person stays as a refugee is around 17 years. Most humanitarian aid goes on long-term crises lasting several years.