VIEWPOINT: Humanitarian Cash Transfers: Six Things We Know and One (Big) Thing We Don’t

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What do you picture when you hear ‘humanitarian aid’?

Most of us imagine temporary shelter to help people get back on their feet after a natural disaster, or food supplies and clothing to help refugees for a few weeks after they’ve fled a conflict. Those images are increasingly out of touch with what’s happening on the ground.

Emergencies are more protracted: a girl born in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp the year it was founded would be well over 20 years old today and could still be living there. Last year, two-thirds of official humanitarian assistance went to long-term recipients. That’s putting humanitarian budgets under strain. According to the UN, the number of people in need of help has doubled in the last decade; humanitarian aid grew by less than half.

There’s a growing consensus that humanitarian cash transfers can help to bridge the widening gap between needs and resources, empowering people affected by disaster and using local markets to deliver the goods and services we previously thought only aid agencies could provide.


What we know about humanitarian cash transfers

The Cash Atlas, a platform to help track how and where cash transfers are being deployed, can add some context to our understanding of the current state of cash transfers. The data are self-reported by agencies and so not a comprehensive record. Nevertheless, focusing on the years 2005 to 2014, the Cash Atlas includes nearly 800 programs implemented by 49 different organisations.

We combine information about transfers with financing data from OCHA’s financial tracking service, convert figures to today’s prices, and allocate budgets equally over each project’s duration to estimate spending per year. The resulting data represents $2.8 billion worth of cash transfer programming. (Click here to download the data appendix, .do file, and a note on methodology).

What did we learn?


Source: Center for Global Development (link opens in a new window)

cash transfers, poverty alleviation, research