A digital solution for emergency cash transfers
The Rahat initiative being piloted in Jaleshwor Municipality in southern Nepal with UNICEF’s support aims to create a fast-acting and reliable digital system to facilitate cash transfers to communities during crises
Mahottari, Nepal: Sudha Devi Mandal recalls a visit from a social mobilizer, who had come to enroll her in a digital cash assistance programme. The 29-year-old from Jaleshwor Municipality in Mahottari District in Nepal’s southern plains says that while she had provided all the details the mobilizer had asked about her and her family, she wasn’t entirely sure whether this would amount to anything.
Indeed, this was a time when Sudha was feeling particularly hopeless. Her husband had been an agricultural labourer in the past, but had not been able to get regular work because of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. With two daughters and two sons to take of – one of them with serious health issues – it had made for a very difficult two years for the couple.
Soon after the mobilizer’s visit, however, Sudha received an SMS on her phone with instructions to come to the municipality office, along with an OTP number. Sudha, still skeptical, thought she would go to the office as per the SMS, but didn’t have high expectations at this point.
Much to her relief, she found that she was quickly ushered in, verified and provided NRs. 10,000 (approx. USD 76.21) in cash – no waiting in long lines, no fuss.
“It was very efficient,” Sudha says. “And I felt like I didn’t have to worry that anyone else would claim the cash that I was entitled to because I needed to be physically present with the verification card and the SMS to get the money.”
The support enabled Sudha to buy medication for her youngest son, as well as setting some aside for emergencies. “It has helped us,” she says.
This cash assistance programme is a collaboration between UNICEF and Rumsan called Rahat, currently being piloted in Jaleshwor. Rahat uses mobile-based blockchain tokens to manage and monitor aid transactions for emergency response and recovery programs, making the cash transfer process efficient and transparent.
With the cash provided by UNICEF, the system had distributed it to targeted vulnerable families. Each of these families received tokens and QR codes on their mobile phones to enable them to claim the cash from the municipality office, or in cases where it was preferred, had the funds directly deposited into their back accounts.
According to one of the ward secretaries in Jaleshwor, Ajay Kumar Sharma, the area is highly prone to different kinds of emergencies: floods during the rainy season, droughts in the summer, and cold waves in the winter. In the past, according to Ajay, cash relief used to be distributed based on handwritten lists of affected people – a cumbersome practice that was difficult to monitor, and meant that many of the most vulnerable families were often left out.
However, with Rahat, the process has become simpler, and beneficiaries easier to identify and target. “This is an effective approach to reaching out to the most vulnerable families, especially during emergencies,” Ajay says.
Rumsan was selected by UNICEF’s Venture Fund to carry out the initiative. The pilot is part of the Office of Innovation's exploration of how blockchain can improve Cash Transfer Programming.