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Cash 101: Cash and Voucher Assistance Explained

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It’s humanitarian planning season! Ten tips for strengthening the inclusion of cash assistance as part of the HRP process

31 October 2018 — By Nathalie Cissokho, Sophie Tholstrup

It’s November and humanitarian planning season is in full swing. To its advocates, the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) process is a critical opportunity to collectively allocate resources and capacities to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs in a given context. To its detractors, the process is a time-consuming distraction which has little impact on the ultimate shape of the response.

Whatever your view, the idea at the core of the process is hard to dispute: a space for joint analysis and prioritisation to ensure the scarce resources available can most effectively meet needs. It should also be an opportunity for actors to analyse which tools – including cash and vouchers – are best suited to meet needs, based on a robust understanding of access, market function, available delivery channels and capacity.

The HRP process provides the single most important opportunity in the year to ensure a more systematic consideration of cash and voucher assistance across sectors and as part of the overall response strategy. This is beginning to be better understood by many actors involved in humanitarian coordination and response planning, and supported by Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs). In Somalia and Cameroon, for instance, the HCT are promoting a “Why not Cash?” approach to response planning, ensuring a more robust response analysis. This does not mean that cash will be appropriate in all settings or to meet all needs, but rather it means that we examine all response modalities and choose the most appropriate, based on evidence and beneficiary preference rather than tradition.

Broadly, however, the engagement of Cash Working Groups in the development of humanitarian plans continues to be weak. Limited resources, time and capacity are often cited as the main blockers. As a result, crisis affected people lose out.

A recent SIDA study of how cash and vouchers were included in the 2018 HRPs found it to be ad hoc and overall fairly weak, and that part of the reason for this is that the HRP template does not specify where and how cash transfers should be included. Of the 18 HRPs they examined, 15 mentioned cash transfers in the first section, but few went on to outline a clear plan for how and where cash and vouchers should be best used. It also highlighted that many sector operational plans indicate whether cash will be used, but rarely explain how. While 12 of the HRPs mentioned multipurpose cash as a response tool, only four had operational plans which indicated how and where multipurpose cash would be deployed. There is very little systematic cash feasibility and analysis, and almost no justification for where vouchers or in-kind assistance are used.

As we move into the planning process for 2019, we are facing many of the same obstacles as last year, despite energy and efforts invested by cash experts and coordination bodies. As cash and vouchers become an increasingly significant part of humanitarian response, it is clear that Cash Working Groups have a responsibility to ensure that their expertise and knowledge is included in HRPs.

At a recent meeting of Cash Working Group leads from East and Southern Africa, participants agreed that there should be stronger engagement of CWGs in the HRP process, an analysis also shared by CWG leads from West and Central Africa. Based on their experiences, here are some practical suggestions[1] for how to ensure stronger inclusion of cash assistance as part of the overall response in the HRP process:

  1. When possible, include a clear and shared analysis of cash feasibility, including where and how cash and vouchers will be used in the overall strategic plan – make cash a more visible and widely understood element of the response.
  2. Ensure full involvement of technical cash actors from the Cash Working Group at an earlier stage in the process.
  3. Build on joint assessments and work from a common picture of need.
  4. Strengthen market assessments and cash feasibility analysis in needs assessments and the HNO and ensure this guides the balance of response tools.
  5. Make space – where appropriate – for the inclusion of multipurpose cash and ensure reporting and monitoring capture outcomes across clusters.
  6. Work with the clusters to ensure that each sector response plan includes a robust analysis of which tools are most appropriate and how, if at all, cash and vouchers will be used to reach sector outcomes and strategic objectives.
  7. Ensure cash assistance across the response can be better tracked throughout the response; which means thinking of basic indicators to be included in sector chapters.
  8. A common cash guidance note for the HRP, leaving room for context specificity, would be welcomed.
  9. In some contexts, a “why not cash?” approach may help to drive more robust response analysis.

Our tenth tip? Get organised and get involved. Make sure someone from your Cash Working Group is present and engaged throughout the planning process, and prepared to share the knowledge and experience of cash actors. This way we’ll ensure cash and vouchers are being used whenever they’re the best tool for getting assistance to those who need it.

Share your experiences

How is the HRP process going in your country? How is cash transfer programming being included and what challenges are you facing? Feel free to share your experiences and lessons learned on the D-Groups to support others as they go through this process over the coming weeks.


[1] It should be noted that these are informal reflections and may not reflect the view of all CWGs.


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