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Turkiye and Syria Earthquake Response: Advice and resources for cash practitioners

Drawing on learning from comparable crises, we have compiled useful information and advice for anyone involved in Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) programming in Turkiye and Syria following the recent earthquakes.

9 March 2023 — By Rana Nassar

As we all continue to grapple with the devastation of the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, our thoughts are with all those affected and all the tireless efforts to support people in need.

With the response going into  its second month, we hope you find the resources and advice below useful – with  lessons drawn from previous earthquake responses, (Haiti in 2010, Nepal in 2015, and Albania in 2019), and other rapid-onset crises. We also recommend this blog by ALNAP which shares important considerations for the response as a whole, including CVA.

Our key recommendations:

Coordination, coordination, coordination!

The context of the Haiti earthquake; a large-scale natural disaster in an urban environment, is highly relevant to look at. While there was little knowledge or implementation of cash transfer programmes in the country prior to the crisis (unlike in Turkiye and Syria), the response highlights success factors and limitations of coordination structures including the need for:

  • Fostering inclusive coordination, involving both international and local organisations.
  • Forging effective partnerships between local and international organisations early on in the response to enhance the effectiveness of CVA coordination and make best use of local resources and expertise, enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of the response.
  • Sharing information rapidly and regularly. This can speed up the response and help with de-duplication of efforts.
  • Keeping meetings focused and thematic, sharing agendas in advance.
  • Sharing working spaces where feasible can lead to better coordination and a more efficient response.

If you are a CVA actor responding to the earthquakes in either Turkiye or in north-west Syria, we encourage you to engage with the established coordination structures if you’re not doing so already.

Refer to the CALP website for up to date details of all Cash Working Groups.

Consider financial services and markets

Learning from the Nepal earthquake response  offers important reminders about:

  • Financial service providers: Established systems for delivering CVA in both Turkiye and Syria mean that cash can be rolled out quickly. But much as systems are established, there is need for continuous mapping and updates on financial service providers (FSPs) to check what’s working and ensure people can access their cash assistance. For any new FSPs looking to provide services for the earthquake response, we would caution not to not take any action until there is a clear picture of market conditions and access. To move in too quickly can overwhelm the market.
  • Market conditions: rapid market assessments as well as continuous updates can make or break the response. Calibrating the amounts of CVA based on market conditions and availability of supplies can mitigate some of the risks associated with the provision of assistance where people won’t be able to use it. CVA can contribute to market recovery where a markets-based approach and the provision of cash grants to traders can help in their ability to re-stock, particularly goods that are short in supply (e.g. shelter, WASH products, energy).

Enable linkages to social protection

While the immediate priority is providing assistance as quickly as possible to those in need, CVA interventions need to consider linkages with existing social protection systems. Unless efforts have been done already before the response, these linkages will probably not happen right away, but designing programmes that enable those linkages to happen can save time and effort down the line. Creating such linkages can have a positive impact on the ability of social protection systems to support emergency responses in the future, as demonstrated in this stocktaking exercise from Dominica following Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Emerging evidence from Ukraine points to the importance of considering the maturity of the social protection system in place when responding to a rapid-onset crisis. Delaying these links where a strong system exists (as in Turkiye) risks duplication of efforts and prolonged timeframe for handover to government.

Leave no one behind

The risk of leaving behind certain groups of people can increase when dealing with a rapid-onset crisis. Some points to keep in mind:

  • Financial literacy varies and the needs of some groups, e.g., older people, can easily be missed. Lessons from Ukraine show that in the rush and pressure to respond, humanitarian actors did not prioritise the targeting of hard-to-reach groups.
  • Linking with the point above on social protection systems, there’s a clear role for humanitarian actors to play in advocating for the inclusion of marginalised groups as well as responding to their specific needs.

Refer to the regulations

Make sure you are following any regulations on the provision of cash (or other types) of assistance to avoid doing any harm to the communities that you are serving. Most notably, we would like to flag aid agency registration requirements in Turkiye (if in doubt, get in touch with the Cash Working Group) which are essential to delivering humanitarian programmes.

To summarise:

  • Coordination is key – develop relationships with a range of stakeholders from those who are small, large, international, local, governmental and non-governmental. Enable positive joint working through efficient meetings, shared workspaces and good information sharing.
  • Get in touch with the relevant Cash Working Group if you haven’t already – this is an essential coordinating body for all cash practitioners operating in the area.
  • Understand the Financial Service Providers operating in the area through continuous and up to date mapping. Advise ‘new-on-the-scene’ FSPs to hold off from getting involved until there is more clarity around markets.
  • Calibrate the CVA transfers carefully based on continually updated rapid market assessments. The provision of cash grants to market traders of low-in-stock items should be considered.
  • Consider how to embed linkages between CVA programmes and existing social protection systems as early as is feasible. This may take time but will save effort down the line, enable a common approach and strengthen coordination.
  • Advocate for the inclusion of marginalised groups in CVA programming as well as responding to their specific needs. For example, this might involve considering carefully the financial literacy of some groups, e.g., of older people.

If you need any more signposting in the way of useful resources and information, please do get in touch with me.

Further Reading:

Below is a collection of reports that are relevant for a rapid onset response. The earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti are used for direct reference, as well as global references on urban disasters.