This discussion paper examines the use of cash and vouchers to provide people with assistance in emergency situations. The literature reviewed by the paper highlights that cash and voucher approaches remain largely under-utilised in the humanitarian sector. Yet there is a growing amount of experience with cash and voucher approaches, and the absolute dominance of commodity-based approaches is beginning to erode. The following findings are made:
contrary to common assumptions the use of cash or vouchers can be a feasible option even in situation of conflict and state collapse, or where there is no banking system. However, some of these factors make implementing a cash- or voucher-based response more difficult
some of the theoretical fears about the drawbacks of cash have not been borne out in practice. For example, people rarely seem to use cash for anti-social purposes, and that women are not necessarily particularly disadvantaged by the use of cash rather than in-kind approaches
voucher programmes may require more planning and preparation than the distribution of cash; agreements need to be reached with local traders, for example, and ""seed fairs"" at which vouchers can be exchanged take time to set up
evaluations comparing vouchers and commodity approaches have been broadly positive, emphasising that they give people more choice and can have positive effects on local markets
where voucher approaches have been compared to cash, however, questions have been raised about whether the additional administrative burden that managing a voucher programme imposes for the implementing agency is worthwhile
the results of evaluations of cash-transfer programmes have been broadly positive, showing measurable improvements to school enrolment rates, reductions in rates of child labour and improvements in child health and nutrition and in levels of consumption
people spend the money they are given sensibly, cash projects have not generally resulted in sustained price rises and women have been able to participate, and have a say in how cash is spent
there are, however, also clear concerns about putting cash into conflicts and predatory political economies as they might fuel insecurity and corruption
aid agencies currently do not have the appropriate skills and expertise to implement cash and voucher approaches.
The review points out that there is a strong case for investing further in the rigorous evaluation and documentation of cash and voucher based responses. There is also a need for humanitarian practitioners to develop the skills and capacities they need to implement cash and voucher interventions. The following recommendations are therefore offered:
further investment is needed in rigorous evaluation and documentation of cash- and voucher-based responses, in order to be able to make a clear case about their impact and effectiveness, and when and where they are appropriate
investment is needed in further learning and training to equip those involved in assessments and programme management to assess the possible appropriateness of cash and voucher responses, and to implement them where appropriate
as part of reform to the UN system, consideration should be given to where responsibility for implementing cash-based responses to food insecurity should lie, to enable cash and voucher responses to be included in the consolidated appeal process
aid should be untied, and donors should endeavour to provide the resources identified as most appropriate, including cash.