A lifeline at the right moment - Discovering the benefits of UNICEF’s direct cash payments to internally displaced people
By Sarah Marcus for UNICEF Georgia
It’s just less than one year since Tamuna Psuturi and her family, including five-year-old Ani and seven-year-old Giorgi, moved home. But theirs was no ordinary move: they are some of the approximately 30,000 people who remain displaced following the war in and around South Ossetia, Georgia in August 2008, and they fled their old home in the village of Ikoti, near South Ossetia as the fighting raged and without knowing what the future would hold for them or where they would end up living.
Tamuna and her family have been unable to move back to their village due to the continuing instability of the security situation there and in December 2008 they were allocated a ‘cottage’ in the settlement of Tserovani, about 20 minutes from Tbilisi, one of several housing developments rapidly built by the Georgian government to house those displaced by the war.
The family was among the recipients of a programme of direct cash assistance to internally displaced people funded by UNICEF and received a payment of 100 GEL to buy winter clothes for each child under six years old.
‘The payment really came at such a helpful time,’ said Psuturi. ‘It was better than the food aid we received because we needed many different things, not just beans,’ she added.
The UNICEF payment of 100 GEL for winter clothes to IDP children under six was part of a project rolled out in February 2008 following a UNICEF-WFP-FAO joint needs assessment covering the food security, nutritional status and livelihood of the IDPs.
The assessment found that although the food aid programme for IDPs already put in place by the WFP was providing a sufficient daily calorie intake, it was not providing the right nutritional balance for children between 0-2 years old.
In response to the assessment the Georgian government suggested a programme of direct cash payments to IDPs and UNICEF, UNHCR and WFP all stepped forward to contribute the funds necessary to implement this.
In addition to the money provided for winter clothing, UNICEF funded the payment of 100 lari per month for three months to provide nutrient-rich food as well as hygiene products for children under two.
Nine-month-old Mariam was one of the children to benefit from that payment. She gurgles happily, walking in her walker and smiling and waving at her visitors as her mother, 21-year-old Kristine Gugutsidze, explains what difficult conditions surrounded her birth.
‘I ran away from the village of Ikoti, in the Akhalgori region, a few days after the fighting started. I was pregnant at the time,’ she said.
‘When Mariam was born some months later, we needed almost everything for her, because all our people were unemployed,’ Gugutsidze explained.
The direct cash payment was indispensable, she said, and was used to buy essential food and hygiene products for Mariam.
‘Nobody in the family has a permanent job, so it’s difficult, but everything we get is for the child. We think first what she needs and that’s what any money we get goes on,’ said her mother.
According to an evaluation report by the Institute of Social Research and Analysis (ISSA) on the UNICEF emergency cash payment programme, what children like Mariam need more than anything, in the eyes of those who care for them, is the right food.
The evaluation, compiled in November 2009, found that almost 80 per cent of those questioned felt their highest spending need was food for their children and that most of the recipients of the direct cash payment for nutrition and hygiene products for children under two spent the money for what it was intended.
In a finding which underscored the difficulty internally displaced parents encounter in meeting their children’s nutritional needs, the report said that 65 per cent of those who received the payment of 100 GEL for winter clothing for children under six actually spent the money on food for their children.
With the overwhelming majority of IDPs questioned naming unemployment as the single most problematic issue they faced, it’s not surprising that providing the essentials for their young children is something these people welcome help with.
‘When we received the cash assistance we tried to buy nutritional products, yoghurts, as well as warm clothes,’ said Eteri Asaevi, mother of 3-year-old Mikheil.
Asaevi and her family are also from Georgia’s Akhalgori region, which borders South Ossetia. Her husband got a new job in a factory just before the fighting erupted, she said. Since they fled and settled in Tserovani, he has been able to find only irregular part-time work.
‘Mikheil is lucky because he was born a healthy child,’ she said, adding that he often asks for fruit, particularly when fruit sellers visit the settlement.
However, it is very hard for his mother to find the money to buy fruit and other essential nutritional items for him, although she is keenly aware of how important such products are.
Asaevi said the direct cash payment they received was hugely helpful and commented that being given cash aid to spend on what was needed most urgently was very important.
According to the evaluation report, such satisfaction with the two direct cash payment schemes was reported by the vast majority of the recipients questioned – in the case of the money for nutritional and hygiene items for children under two, 100 per cent of respondents said they found the assistance very helpful.
Furthermore, the practical implementation of the project was clearly a success as almost all of those questioned said that once they heard the cash assistance was available they found the process of obtaining it straightforward and hassle free.
Although the scheme has now ended, its lasting impact was to help struggling parents, recently displaced by violent events, to get through a particularly hard time when most of them had no means with which to provide essential food, clothes and hygiene products for their children.
‘The payment came at such a helpful time, at a time when we needed absolutely everything,’ said Psuturi.
The assistance schemes may no longer be running, but it’s clear that Psuturi and the other beneficiaries have not forgotten them.