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Cash transfer programmes work

The food and cash transfer programme was part of the national emergency response to the worst drought Southern Africa had experienced in 15 years, severely affecting the harvest in April and May 2007. As a result of this poor harvest and of forest fires in the highlands, by September there were high levels of hunger within the communities. Following a national vulnerability assessment it was estimated that over 450,000 people (almost 40% of the population) would require assistance from October through to the next harvest – referred to as the lean or hunger period.

Most agencies responded with a standard food package consisting of maize, beans and oil but Save the Children chose to deliver half of this food ration accompanied by cash to the market value of the other half. Over more than five years Save the Children and many other agencies have been collecting evidence to prove that transferring cash to households is a suitable response to many different contexts. This was the first time that we had made the transfers through private bank accounts.

Following detailed monitoring and an external evaluation the project was found to have met the majority of its objectives: improving food security, empowering women and children, safeguarding assets in the emergency period and supporting income generating activities of those benefiting from the cash transfers and others in the community through cash injection. However, the long term impact of the programme on the livelihoods as well the added value of providing cash through bank accounts remained inconclusive. A small proposal was approved to continue the monitoring of these two indicators over the following six months, concluding with the workshops we are holding this month.

This week we completed the first workshop with community representatives to discuss the cash transfer project. The participants of the workshop were people who were part of the cash and food transfer project carried out by Save the Children for six months, finishing in April this year with the final transfer. These community reps had agreed to play a role within their communities to assist the most vulnerable households in their correspondence with the bank and received training in April.

The workshops went well and we were able to gather further data for future planning and to aid in the design of ongoing projects. In the first days of my visit here I had a chance to work with partners on the two proposals that we will be submitting to look at follow up programmes to the emergency drought response. These programmes will aim to provide social protection to households affected by the underlying causes of poverty in Swaziland, such as HIV & AIDS and access to health care, poor support to education and increasing food and non food commodity prices through regular and reliable cash transfers. We will be investing resources in the careful development of these proposals over the next few months to ensure that we involve all key stakeholders in the design stage.

Some of the team that implemented the cash transfer programme were recalled to plan for the workshops, giving us a good chance to get together and do some reminiscing ourselves. The team worked terrifically hard during the project period, and especially long and tasking hours in the first few months. As we all know time is a great healer and recalling tough times can bring tears of laughter. One that had everyone in stitches was the time that the entire team were stuck in the mud over night following an almighty storm which lasted 8 hours. Hail stones the size of golf balls fell and thunder and lightening crashed all around, everyone taking refuge in their respective vehicles as the 3 cars and 2 food trucks sank into the mud. The irony of being flooded by water during an emergency drought response was a little too much for me at the time, but the memory of them reporting in one by one from different parts of the region on that day is quite amusing now.

On a separate note, there is a tree high up the hill above the room in which I am sleeping that keeps dropping its fruit with great force onto the corrugated iron roof (or I am being targeted by the monkeys but I find it best not to get paranoid about things like that). After an average of three bounces the fruits fall off the roof into the pond. So with the crickets, the odd buzzing of a mosquito and the rather more startling roof drumming it is quite musical in here.

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