Unconditional Cash Transfer Project
In Yemen, UNICEF distributes unconditional cash transfers to the most vulnerable families, empowering families to meet their unique needs
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The onset of the war in Yemen caused the Social Welfare Fund – the flagship national social protection programme providing 1.5 million beneficiary cases with quarterly unconditional cash transfers - to suspend operations, removing vital assistance for poor and vulnerable people. The situation of these families has further deteriorated as the country’s economy continues to face sharp contraction due to the financial and economic crisis and liquidity crunch.
Lack of salaries for civil servants, impediments to and lack of infrastructure for commercial and humanitarian supplies to enter the country, further compound an already dire humanitarian situation, affecting what currently remains of the resilience of many vulnerable families and children. A growing number of families are unable to afford the rising cost of basic services and commodities, including food. Escalating malnutrition rates have become a tangible threat to children’s lives.
With no source of income and prices of essential goods skyrocketing, families are unable to cover their most basic needs, including food, access to healthcare and education.
There is wide recognition that unconditional emergency cash transfers are one of the most effective social safety nets in times of conflict. They are also an approach rooted in human rights.
They are a powerful way to restore choice and dignity by allowing families to identify and meet their unique needs for different goods and services, as they arise. Sometimes these can be food, other times drinking water, healthcare, school fees.
In an effort to prevent the country from economic collapse and prevent the vulnerable population form descending further into poverty, the Yemen Emergency Cash Transfer (ECT) project was established in response to the rapid deterioration of the economic situation and living conditions of the Yemeni population, as well as to maintain the country’s social welfare system.
The ECT project not only builds on the beneficiary list pre-conflict but also on other design parameters of the Social Welfare Fund with a longer-term objective of reviving and strengthening the national social protection system. Although the project builds on the parameters of the Social Welfare Fund, the necessary adjustments have been made to the cash delivery mechanism, to be able to deliver these in a high-risk and volatile environment.
The cash transfers disbursed by UNICEF are unconditional, meaning that each family can use the money to respond to their most pressing needs and their priorities, and do so with dignity.
The ECT project, delivered by UNICEF since August 2017, targets the 1.5 million beneficiary cases of the Social Welfare Fund, impacting 9 million beneficiaries.
A robust risk mitigation approach was established to ensure that the cash is delivered to the right families. To collect, all beneficiaries must first verify their identity against the project’s beneficiary list and an identification document. Once their identity has been verified, beneficiaries can then go to payment sites and collect the cash. The project has a national coverage with the flexibility to reach every beneficiary at their current location. During the cash distribution period, displaced beneficiaries can collect their cash at payment sites closer to their homes. Outreach teams are also on the ground to serve elderly, differently abled people, pregnant women and other beneficiaries with impediments that prevent them from going to the payment sites.
Throughout the implementation, facilitators maintain regular dialogues with local, formal and informal authorities to facilitate a smooth execution of project activities, and through them reach beneficiaries with all relevant information about the project.
Beneficiaries wishing to submit a complaint or request for support, can do so through a call centre using a toll-free number or through field-based personnel. All grievances are analysed and sent for redressal. Beneficiaries facing challenges to collect their benefits are assisted through a Case Management Team. In case a potential fraud is reported, the case is duly investigated by an independent organisation which is also responsible for monitoring the different processes for compliance with project’s procedures and regulations.
In 2019, the unconditional cash transfers reached 1.4 million beneficiaries impacting nearly 9 million people – about one third of the country’s population.
The ECT project is UNICEF’s largest cash transfer project globally.
In light of the different complexities associated with delivering cash at such a large scale and in the middle of a conflict, the establishment of a dedicated Project Management Unit within UNICEF was a first line, non-negotiable, risk mitigation measure. The Project Management Unit is a self-sustained unit with specialised human resources overseeing the design and implementation of the project, ensuring the mitigation of risks and leveraging on technology for an efficient delivery.
At the heart of the project lies the integrated project’s Management Information System that not only contains the beneficiary database but also modules to handle the different project components in a secure and efficient manner. The Management Information System is a live tool that is continuously customised to respond to the needs of the project. Online payment plans, an issue log and the integration with RapidPro, a messaging platform to communicate with beneficiaries, are an example of this.