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Cash vouchers give choice to displaced in eastern DRC

© Photo Unicef/RDCongo

KINSHASA, This month UNICEF and its partners and its partners Solidarités Internationale and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) completed three weeks of cash voucher fairs to provide critical relief supplies to some 65,000 displaced people – the largest single campaign yet in DRC using this innovative approach.

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 US$40 which they can use, choose and purchase supplies that meet their most pressing household and personal needs from participating traders.

While UNICEF and its partners continue with direct distribution of standard Non Food Items (NFI) kits which were developed and modified with input from beneficiaries, these kits remain just a best estimate of what a typical displaced or returnee family might need. 

The NFI fairs method goes a step further; it deems beneficiaries are themselves the best placed to decide what they need most. As in a typical village market, families compare, haggle, and select from the selection of items displayed by the participating vendors.  Unlike a standard family relief kit which as at most 12 different types of items, families can choose from hundreds of options ranging from mattresses, blankets, shoes, clothing, cooking utensils, wash-basins, roofing materials, or any other item the family chooses. Giving families the option to choose their own items helps preserves the dignity of the beneficiaries as they are actors in their own assistance.  It also stimulates the local economy by supporting the local commercial sector.                                                                                                                                                               

The complex nature of the violence in eastern DRC results in multiple displacement/returns as families flee and then attempt to return to their villages. Some families are able to leave their homes with some possessions; others are forced to flee with only the clothes on their backs. The fairs approach aims to meet the challenge of serving the vastly different needs of the large numbers of displaced families. The fairs can also be mobilized rapidly, to meet large-scale needs without depleting contingency stocks.

The fairs method has been integrated into the UNICEF-led Rapid Response to Movement of Populations (RRMP) program which acts as a first-line assistance mechanism in providing critical NFI and emergency shelter assistance, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and education. RRMP aims to assist one-third of families this year using fairs instead of direct in-kind distribution.

UNICEF began experimenting with the use of cash vouchers for relief assistance in 2008.  With the technical support of American NGO, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), UNICEF, scaled this up in 2009 and 2010, training and providing technical support to all major UNICEF emergency partners.  UNICEF partners have assisted over 63,000 families throughout eastern DRC with essential relief supplies via the fair method since 2009.

UNICEF has worked with Solidarités Internationale since 2004 and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) since 2006 in large-scale evaluation and response programs for displaced and returning displaced familiess.



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