5 questions: Cash transfers for the displaced in Iraq

Since January 2014, over 2 million Iraqis have fled their homes due to violence in the northwest of the country. In response, UNICEF recently signed a USD $5 Million agreement with the Governorate of Dohuk, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to provide emergency cash assistance to vulnerable families living in camp settings. Distribution began on 04 December 2014. I spoke with Emily Garin, who has led this emergency cash project in Iraq, about the initiative.

Q: What families will benefit and how are they selected?
A: The families that have been displaced into this area are all extremely vulnerable. They fled violence and most lost everything they owned. UNICEF support will be used for those families moved in camps with the most substantial needs, including: the largest families, those living in the most exposed conditions, and families in which a child is living with a disability. Families were selected based on an assessment conducted by UNICEF supporting the Government of Dohuk to distribute cash to families so they may better prepare for the cold winter. The Dohuk Development and Modification Centre (DMC) has deployed 22 accountants, security and monitors for the physical distribution of the cash.

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©UNICEF/PFPG2014-1189/Hallahan(c) UNICEF Iraq/2014

Q: What will each family receive?
A: Families will receive a flat amount of USD $250 in cash. Allocating $250 per family means that the UNICEF contribution will reach about 20,000 families. Many families have experienced multiple displacements, and moved to the camps after sheltering in unfinished buildings, and schools. Each has unique needs for different services, especially with the onset of winter. Cash allows them to meet those changing needs better than we may be able to predict.

Q: How is UNICEF ensuring that the grants are used as intended?
A: UNICEF worked closely with the regional government authorities to design the cash transfer programme. Key parts of UNICEF support include the preparation, assessment and provision of coupons to the displaced families with the support of 32 UNICEF facilitators. Additional finance monitors and programme staff monitored payments directly and are conducting post-distribution monitoring to follow up with families who received cash. UNICEF is present during the distribution – liaising with government authorities, beneficiaries, and ensuring the smooth implementation of the initiative.

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(c) UNICEF Iraq/2014

Q: How is this project unique?
A: This project is unique because of the agreement we’ve reached with the government regarding the distribution of the cash. The administrative capacities of the government are supplemented by UNICEF’s technical and community outreach ability. This is the strength of the initiative and it means that all USD $5 million of UNICEF’s commitment will go directly to families. This is a remarkable model of both partnership and efficiency.

Q: Having worked on similar projects in different places, what is the most interesting aspect of providing direct cash transfers?
A: For UNICEF the best thing about cash transfers is that it is an approach rooted in human rights and fundamentally family focused. Cash allows families to make their own decisions about their most pressing needs and their priorities, and to do so with dignity as temperatures drop to near freezing. For some families the most pressing concern is shelter, for others it may be food, for others, medical fees. The variety of uses for cash is borne out in post-payment monitoring that has been completed in several countries. While there is an irreplaceable role for life-saving supplies within UNICEF’s humanitarian work, our experience with cash has made it clear that cash can reach families, places, and needs in ways that some of our other tools cannot.

Chelsea Cowan works for UNICEF Iraq.

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