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Cash transfers provide social protection to Zambia's most vulnerable families

Breaking the cycle of poverty

By Guy Hubbard

LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, 1 August 2011 – The spectacular Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, draws thousands of tourists from around the world every year. Nearby, but a world away from the luxury hotels, lies Muntumuswana village – one of the places where the Zambian Government, UNICEF and other partners are making inroads against the intergenerational cycle of poverty by providing cash transfers to vulnerable families.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a programme providing cash grants to impoverished households in Zambia in an effort to build human capital and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.  Watch in RealPlayer


Grace Mukamutema is one of the elders in Muntumuswana. At 73, she’s seen generations of tourists come and go. She has also seen the rise of HIV in Zambia and its impact upon her village and her family. Today, she is the primary caregiver for her orphaned grandchildren.

“My husband died in 1990, and then the father of these children died in 1999 and there was no one to look after them,” she says. “That’s how they came to live with me.”

© UNICEF video
Grace Mukamutema, 73, with the orphaned grandchildren who live with her in the village of Muntumuswana, located in Zambia's Kazungula District.

After Ms. Mukamutema took in the children, they fought to survive, growing maize and groundnuts and doing what they could to make money. “It was very difficult,” she recalls. “I had many different ways to help us survive. I would pick and sell wild fruits and we would also eat them, and I would sell firewood in town.”

As the country's HIV prevalence rate crept higher, many families were forced into a similar position, with grandmothers raising their grandchildren or, worse, orphaned children raising themselves.

Benefits of social protection

In 2003, in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Zambia's Ministry of Community Development and Social Services introduced a pilot programme of cash transfers for poor households in the district of Kalomo. It was later institutionalized and extended to other districts with high levels of poverty.

The transfers are regular and predictable payments of money to vulnerable families with the objective of social protection – that is, ameliorating social risk and economic vulnerability, and reducing the transfer of poverty from one generation to the next.

Evidence shows that children born into poverty are more likely than others to grow up poor, malnourished and uneducated, limiting their future life chances. Social-protection programmes are an effective way of addressing this dynamic.

© UNICEF video
Children on the 5 km walk from Muntumuswana village to Nandu Basic School in Zambia's Kazungula District.

Ms. Mukamutema’s household was among those selected, on the basis of need, to join the cash-transfer scheme in Kazungula District. She immediately put the money to good use, building two new shelters and buying school uniforms for the children.

“I'm so grateful for this money that I receive, and I will remain indebted to this programme until I die,” she says. Without the payments, she adds, “I would not have been able to feed these children or send them to school or even provide proper shelter.”

Impact on education

It’s early morning in Muntumuswana village, but Ms. Mukamutema’s grandchildren, Lonica and Fellow, are already walking to their school in Nandu, 5 km away. They make it just as the bell rings.

Forty four of the students Nandu Basic School are from families that benefit from the cash-transfer programme. They would not be able to attend school without that assistance.

The principal, Nzala Michelo, is also the local manager responsible for disbursing the cash grants. He has seen first-hand the impact of the grants upon his most poverty-stricken pupils.

© UNICEF video
A classroom at Nandu Basic School in Zambia's Kazungula District. Forty four of the school's students benefit from social-protection cash transfers.

“In order for these children to come to school on a daily basis, they need food,” explains Mr. Michelo. “If these parents have food at a household level, it means that kids will able to come to school. So it has assisted, in so far as food security is concerned, the coming of these children to school.”

Food, shelter and more

Every two months, Ms. Mukamutema visits the Nandu school to collect her modest grant. From there, it’s a short walk to the nearby market, where she's able to stock up on basic foods.

Then she goes to the local clinic. On a recent visit, she sought treatment for aches in her legs and for a chest infection that Fellow had developed.

Without the transfer, Ms. Mukamutema would not be able to visit the clinic or pay for the medicines she and Fellow are prescribed. In fact, without the aid she receives, her family would be hard-pressed to pay for food, shelter or health care, and there would be no money for school fees.

For Grace Mukamutema’s family, like thousands of others in Zambia, cash transfers make a critical difference. It’s the difference between struggling and surviving, and in the long run, even thriving.

© UNICEF video
Grace Mukamutema receives her cash grant at Nandu Basic School in Kazungula District, Zambia.

A critical difference

To ensure its effectiveness, the programme in Zambia was designed through a collaborative process – led by the government, but with the participation of UNICEF and other partners, as well as communities themselves.

That process was “centred around the government,” says UNICEF Zambia’s Chief of Social Policy and Economic Analysis, Charlotte Harland, “but with technical inputs from diverse stakeholders, people with great experience in actually making things work on the ground.”

Governments, non-governmental organizations and aid agencies, including UNICEF, are working to implement similar programmes around the developing world. As a response to extreme poverty and vulnerability, these initiatives invest in so-called ‘human capital’ – the families and communities that are the building blocks of a healthy nation – in order to break down ingrained patterns of impoverishment.

In the end, the ultimate goal of social-protection cash transfers is to give children an opportunity to grow into healthy, productive members of society.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.



Good practice in social protection

Watch the Institute of Development Studies video interview series on social-protection cash transfers:

Lessons learned in Kenya and Zambia
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