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Case Study

Do Cash Transfers Improve Food Security in Emergencies? Evidence from Sri Lanka

2010 — By Susanna Sandström, Levan Tchatchua

In December 2004, WFP launched an emergency operation (EMOP) to assist victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka. The disaster resulted in more than 38,000 deaths and approximately 7,000 people missing. The government estimated that at least 1 million people were directly or indirectly affected, of whom about 500,000 were displaced.

The objectives of the EMOP were to ensure the affected population’s food security and to support the rebuilding of livelihoods. General food distribution (GFD) was provided to more than 900,000 people between January and October 2005. In parallel to this, the government provided all affected people with Rs 200 (US$2) a week in cash. The cash was intended to help beneficiaries meet supplementary food and other household needs not covered by WFP assistance.

In October 2005, WFP shifted to a more targeted intervention – vulnerable group feeding (VGF) – reducing the beneficiary numbers to 350,000. The cash transfer pilot project was implemented under this intervention between October/November 2005 and January 2006. This chapter starts by briefly reviewing the design and implementation of the cash pilot in Sri Lanka. An important objective of the pilot was to compare cash with food transfers, so beneficiaries were randomly assigned to receive either transfer type. This allowed a rigorous evaluation of the two modalities.

This chapter focuses on the results from the evaluation, paying special attention to changes in households’ consumption patterns and gender-related control and preferences. A discussion of key ingredients for success and lessons learned during the pilot complete the analysis.