Cash in emergency: a synthesis of Bangladesh red crescent society experience and learning
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Bangladesh is prone to recurrent flooding, landslides, and cyclones year after year. The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) established by President Order (PO) – 26 of 1973 as an auxiliary to the Government is one of the major organizations in Bangladesh that provide relief and recovery assistance to those affected. Historically, the BDRCS has provided food, non-food items (NFI) and shelter items for emergency relief. However, as the advantages of cash transfer programming (CTP) became more evident, the BDRCS started using CTP in conjunction with the traditional distributions more often since the year 2007 after Cyclone SIDR. The terms ‘cash-based response’ and ‘cash transfers’ cover a wide range of activities across various sectors, including using unconditional cash grants, conditional cash grants, Cash for Work and voucher fairs to meet basic needs, provide shelter, rebuild livelihoods and promote reintegration. Cash transfers are not a sector in their own right, but simply tools that can be used – when appropriate – to meet a variety of objectives. While the topic of cash-based responses in emergencies still provokes debate, discussions among humanitarian agencies have evolved from whether they may be an appropriate tool to how organizations, donors and governments can best use cash transfers, given their missions and mandates. Cash transfers are not a panacea; nor are many of the ‘fears’ about using cash transfers, including the potential for anti-social spending and disadvantaging women, necessarily justified in practice. Ultimately, listing theoretical advantages and disadvantages of cash transfers in comparison to in-kind relief is not a helpful framework for discussion; the appropriateness of cash transfers depends on needs, market functionality and other key factors, which vary from context to context. This study is born of a commitment to understanding cash transfers as a tool for providing emergency relief and the subsequent implications for Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. It draws on the growing volume of evidence on the use of cash transfers in emergency contexts. It argues that cash-based responses are likely to be increasingly used as one of a range of options in emergency response and that Bangladesh Red Crescent Society needs to secure the skills and capacity both to decide when cash is appropriate and to programme it when it is. Bangladesh Red Crescent Society’s is pioneer in emergency response in Bangladesh and more than one decade cash is using as an emergency response. There is a growing recognition among public donors that, in certain contexts, cash transfers can meet project objectives more effectively than in-kind assistance, and it is likely that this overall – though limited – trend in favour of cash-based responses is set to continue. Yet few donors have established dedicated guiding criteria for the consideration of cash-based responses in emergencies. In order to access funding, organisations need to make very strong cases that cash transfers are an appropriate response, using robust assessments that incorporate analysis of needs, livelihoods, markets and risks. Bangladesh Red Crescent Society should increase dialogue about cash transfers with donors who are currently funding or exploring funding of various types of cash interventions. Other disaster response organizations in Bangladesh, such as Oxfam and Save the Children, utilize CTP two to three months following a disaster, or in the longer term recovery and preparedness projects. BDRCS is the only organization that has utilized CTP as an immediate response mechanism within the first few weeks after a disaster strikes. All the organizations doing CTP in Bangladesh, including the BDRCS and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), are involved with The Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP). BDRCS has experience in utilizing a few different cash transfer mechanisms. In the emergency relief phase the objective is to provide vulnerable populations affected by disaster with cash and/or items to meet their emergency caused needs immediately following a disaster. In recovery projects, beneficiaries are required to open a bank account and receive training on financial services that come with formal banking systems. Though there are disadvantages to the direct cash grant method, the advantages outweigh the risks. Cash distributions can be completed within days of the disaster occurring. Payments to beneficiaries are done in a one-time transaction. This emergency relief is provided to assist families with their immediate disaster caused needs for up to one month. These payments are unconditional cash grants. There is also monitoring of how beneficiaries spend their money. Further support to families may occur in the recovery phases of the emergency cycle depending on needs, funding and capacity.