Top-up, piggyback or shadow: How to make aid work more efficiently

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 29 June 2017 16:13 GMT

A Turkana girl holds a canister as she waits to get water from a borehole near Baragoy, Kenya February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Goran. Tomasevic

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Need a way to make emergency help go further? Here are six

When a flood, drought, storm or other disaster hits – or is about to – getting effective help to people who need it can be a daunting challenge.

One way to make things easier is to tap into existing social welfare “safety net” programmes, whether they’re public works projects, school feeding programmes, systems of cash welfare payments or other type of help, says Clare O’Brien, who works on poverty and “social protection” issues in countries as far-flung as Congo-Brazzaville, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Kenya.

“If you’re using an existing system, you’re saving time,” says the Oxford Policy Management consultant. And building emergency aid into existing government systems can both strengthen the system and ultimately cut down on the need for emergency help, she said.

But how do you do it? She offers six ways of tapping in:

1. Top-up aid to existing recipients. Ethiopia’s huge Productive Safety Net Programme provides six months of food or cash a year to rural families that need it, in exchange for work on public projects. In times of disasters, aid money might be used to expand the period of help available, for instance to eight months, she said.

2. Expand the pool getting help. Kenya’s Hunger Safety Net Programme already provides a cash payment to 100,000 households in semi-arid northern Kenya every two months. When drought comes, the number of people receiving that payment could be expanded temporarily – though working out who to register can take time, she admitted.

3. Piggyback on existing programmes. Perhaps there’s an existing database of welfare beneficiaries around that emergency aid groups could access in times of crisis, to provide extra kinds of help – food aid, for instance, on top of existing cash payments.

4. “Shadow” what should happen. Mali has a social welfare system working in the south of the country, but expanding it to the conflict-hit north hasn’t yet been fully possible, O’Brien said. But humanitarian agencies working in the north during the height of the conflict in 2012-2013 tried to provide cash transfers that looked very much like those given by the government in the south of the country – the same type and size, given at the same frequency – with the aim of helping the emergency programme align with an eventual expansion of the government-funded one.

5. Adjust and refocus existing aid. The World Food Programme has a school feeding programme in Mali, she said, but during the 2012-2013 conflict the country was dealing with many more displaced people in need of help. With resources tight, officials in one region chose to reduce rations somewhat for everyone to ensure some aid gets to a bigger pool of people.

6. Tweak what’s there now. Mozambique has only a small social welfare system. But as more areas of the country become prone to cyclones and flooding, expanding the system in a smart way may simply be a matter of looking at which areas of the country that are not yet served are most vulnerable, and making sure they’re first in line when welfare systems are expanded, O’Brien said.

Working hard to move away from emergency aid and toward regular state welfare systems that can be adjusted and expanded in times of crisis can cut costs and effort, she said.

“We need to make the system itself resilient so it can withstand shocks,” she said.

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