UN World Food Programme

Pakistan: Cash Cards Bring Flood Families Back To Market

Manzoor Ahmed with his family in front of the tent where they have been living since the August floods swept their home away. Copyright:WFP/Amjad Jamal

After losing his home and business to the August floods, Manzoor Ahmed, 37, is again able to buy food at the local market thanks to a pilot project which has replaced his food rations with cash. This way, WFP is supporting local markets and food production.

ISLAMABAD—Manzoor Ahmed needs help to carry all the groceries he’s just bought at the local market. He hasn’t made a trip like this in months. In fact, he’s about to make it again as his wife reminds him that he’s forgotten the milk.

“I bought eggs, sugar, soap and a matchbox to light the cooking fire,” he says—all ingredients necessary for life in the tent where he and his family of five have been living since floods this summer carried their home away.

Why cash?

In situations where markets are still functioning, it makes more sense to give hungry people money to buy food than to give them food rations. That way, food aid doesn’t compete with food on the market and the local economy gets an important boost.

Up until now, they’ve been subsisting on wheat flour and high energy biscuits provided to them by WFP. But now they’re getting cash, which they can use to buy a greater variety of  food as well as other basic necessities—like matches.

Cash for food

In much of Pakistan, the August floods wrecked the local economy, causing food prices to soar. But in the resilient Punjab region, prices remained relatively stable and markets continued to function well. That made it an ideal area for WFP to pilot the “Kash card” initative.

WFP uses cash transfers in areas where markets are working well but prices may be too high for people to afford the food they need. The poorest of the poor spend the vast majority of their income (around 80 percent) on food, and cash gives them more choice and variety.

WFP has begun substituting food rations with “Kash” cards that people like Ahmed can use to withdraw small amounts of cash at local bank points.

The scheme was launched in partnership with United Bank Limited and the National Rural Support Programme, and gives families 5,000 rupees per month (about US $58.00), an amount roughly equivalent to the cash value of the food basket they were receiving before.

Revitalise economy

So far, some 3,000 families like Ahmed’s have been issued with Kash cards, under a programme which will help revitalize the local economy, support local markets, and give families the flexibility to buy the things they need most.

Amed is now working on a small plot of land where he’s growing wheat and vegetables and hopes soon to get back to his business selling soft drinks from a roadside stall.

“Once my crop is ready, I’ll sell it on the market and hopefully have enough money to reopen my street kiosk,” he said.