Financial assistance helps families displaced from Nagorno Karabakh meet basic needs

UNICEF and the Government of Armenia have provided financial assistance to the families of 5000 children displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ani Grigoryan
Լեռնային Ղարաբաղից Հայաստան ժամանած ընտանիք։
UNICEF Armenia/2021/Galstyan
01 October 2021

The military escalations in and around Nagorno-Karabakh caused immense human and material loss, leading to the displacement of about 90,000* Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, as well as from the borderline regions of Armenia. Many of these families had to start from scratch with minimal means of subsistence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and already strained social services. The Government of Armenia developed a number of measures to support women and children. In May 2021, UNICEF joined on of the government programmes to also provide a one-time cash benefit to the families of 5000 children in the amount of 25,000 Armenian drams per child, within the government-approved benefit threshold The assistance was made possible with the funding of the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) as part of the UN inter-agency response plan to assist displaced persons affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and host communities in Armenia.

New challenges, new solutions

“The government started developing various cash assistance programmes since November 2020, discussing the underlying mechanisms with international and development partners. For UNICEF, it was especially important to make sure that the support is provided in an equitable manner without overlap with other social protection programmes and that it is commensurate to the set levels of other benefit programmes,” said Armenuhi Hovakimyan, UNICEF Social Policy Specialist.

According to Hovakimyan, though the government had tested cash assistance programmes during the coronavirus pandemic, further enhancements were needed to target and support families displaced from the conflict zone. The development of the cash assistance framework and technical discussions around it were co-led by UNICEF through the UN Cash Coordination Working Group with the government and humanitarian partners.

“We signed a memorandum with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and worked with the Unified Social Service to enhance the existing mechanisms and capacity to cover the influx of new beneficiaries. We identified beneficiaries through the system of online applications whereby beneficiaries had to apply to become eligible for the cash support. Eventually, we were able to reach 5000 children – 2500 girls and 2500 boys, mostly up to five years old,” notes Armenuhi.

Why cash assistance?

To provide for the basic needs of displaced families at the height of the conflict, UNICEF provided in-kind assistance: food packs, hygiene kits, and bedding, in cooperation with local self-government bodies in 11 communities across the country.

“Local assessment among the affected families from Nagorno-Karabakh and in Armenia showed that cash support was most needed after housing in order to cover basic needs. UNICEF experience shows that this is also the most dignified way to assist families in emergency situations as it empowers them to consider various needs and take their own household decisions,” explained Armenuhi. “We know that some decision-makers are concerned about to what extent the cash benefit would be spent in a targeted way. Internationally there is very little evidence that this money is spent on non-target purposes, such as alcohol or tobacco. The vast majority of caregivers prioritise and take care of their basic needs first.”

What needs did the families meet?

To evaluate the effectiveness of cash benefits, UNICEF carried out post-distribution monitoring in June 2021 through phone calls to randomly selected 498 beneficiaries. Monitoring results showed that the majority of households spent the money on basic needs: 26 percent bought food, 18 percent bought clothing, 13 percent paid for utilities, 11 percent for rent, while 8 percent bought hygiene items and 6 percent directed it to healthcare expenses.

Sixty percent of surveyed participants mentioned that the received assistance mainly helped them to meet their needs at that moment and 37 percent said that it helped a lot. Seventy percent of participants said that they need additional assistance and would prefer to receive it in cash, while 29 percent mentioned that they would prefer both monetary and in-kind assistance.

What are the needs of displaced families today?

UNICEF monitoring also identified some of the needs that displaced families had. Eighty four percent indicated the need for employment. Only seven percent of surveyed families said that they were able to take care of all the needs in the family, and 41 percent said that they can take care of only half of the needs that they have.

The majority of families (258) currently live in rented accommodations, 184 in a free of charge house or host family, and only 24 live in their own house. Thirty percent of families did not know whether they will be able to return to Nagorno-Karabakh or not.

“UNICEF continues to support families displaced as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through developing community-based services, provision of basic life-saving skills to adolescents, and other means,” noted Armenuhi. “We are pleased to have established and tested the emergency cash assistance mechanism together with the government and partners, as this enhanced preparedness of the social protection system to respond to other emergencies in the future.”