|© UNICEF DR Congo2010/Kalondo|
|Giving displaced families in DR Congo the option of choosing their own supplies, and assisting themselves through cash vouchers, helps to preserve the dignity of aid beneficiaries.|
By Ebba Kalondo
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 11 October 2010 – UNICEF and two of its non-governmental partners, Solidarities International and the Norwegian Refugee Council, have completed three weeks of ‘cash-voucher fairs’ providing critical supplies to some 65,000 people displaced by violence in eastern DR Congo. It is the country’s largest single campaign yet using this innovative approach.
“These fairs are an important step in the recovery process of families,” said UNICEF Representative on DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi. “UNICEF and its partners are accompanying them on their way.”
During the 27 days of fairs held in Oicha, Mbau and Mavivi villages in North Kivu province, each family received a sheet of 13 coupons worth a total of $40. The families can use the coupons to make purchases from participating traders, choosing supplies that meet their most pressing household and personal needs.
Hundreds of choices
While UNICEF and its partners continue organizing the direct distribution of standard relief kits, which have been developed and modified with input from beneficiaries, these kits remain just a best estimate of what a typical displaced or returnee family might need.
|© UNICEF DR Congo2010/Kalondo|
|Unlike a standard family relief kit, which has about 12 different kinds of of items, displaced families using cash vouchers in eastern DR Congo can choose from hundreds of items sold by participating vendors.|
The cash-voucher fairs go a step further, recognizing that aid beneficiaries themselves are best-placed to decide which items they need most. Just as they would do in a typical village market, families compare prices, haggle and select from items displayed by the vendors.
Unlike a standard family relief kit, which contains 12 items at most, the fairs offer hundreds of options – including mattresses, blankets, shoes, clothing, cooking utensils, wash basins, roofing materials and much more. Giving families this level of choice helps restore their dignity in circumstances that might otherwise rob them of a sense of self-worth. It also stimulates the local economy by supporting the commercial sector.
As one fair participant and mother of two, Kavira Matita, exclaimed: “Furaha! [‘joy’ in the Kiswahili language], “I am able to choose what is close to my heart. I am very happy to use the coupons for what I know my family needs and not be given things I won’t have much use for.”
Providing essential relief
UNICEF DR Congo Emergency Specialist Steven Michel echoed Ms. Matita’s point. “We had clearly underestimated the dynamism of local traders to transport their wares and set up shop at fairs in remote areas,” he said, adding that “while voucher programs may not be feasible in all situations, we have certainly been encouraged by the number of different contexts they do work in.”
The complex nature of the violence in eastern DR Congo often results in cycles of displacement and return, as families flee and then attempt to go back to their villages. Although some families are able to leave their homes with some of their possessions, others are forced to flee with only the clothes on their backs.
The cash-voucher fairs aim to meet the vastly different needs of the large number of displaced families. The fairs can also be mobilized rapidly to meet large-scale needs without depleting contingency stocks.
This approach has been integrated into the UNICEF-led Rapid Response to Movement of Populations programme, which acts as a first-line assistance mechanism in providing displaced families with critical non-food items, shelter assistance, water and sanitation, and emergency education.
UNICEF began experimenting with the use of cash vouchers for relief assistance in 2008. With technical support from Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF has since scaled up this effort, providing training and technical support to all major emergency partners in eastern DR Congo and reaching tens of thousands of families with essential relief supplies.