Cash-based transfers give Malian refugees freedom of choice in Mberra camp

Since 2012, more than 50,000 Malian refugees have sought safety in Mauritania where WFP has assisted them through monthly food distributions and nutritional assistance. In June 2016, WFP improved its assistance by providing cash-based transfers as part of the monthly assistance to refugees, giving families the opportunity to decide for themselves what to eat.

The Mberra refugee camp opened its doors to Malians fleeing political violence in 2012 when clashes between government military and rebel groups broke out, causing large displacements in neighbouring countries.

Since 2012, more than 50,000 Malians have been hosted by the Mauritanian populations living on the border with Mali in and around the small city of Bassikounou. Over the past years, WFP has assisted registered and new refugees in Mberra camp through monthly food distributions, nutritional assistance for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition for children aged 6-59 months and pregnant and lactating women. WFP’s monthly assistance to families also encourages them to send their children to the primary schools and pre-schools in the camp, where one warm meal is prepared and served on a daily basis to children attending.

In 2012, along with her husband and five children, Tanima fled Northern Mali and crossed the border with Mauritania. The family, along with many others, has since found refuge in Mberra camp, but has not been able to return in safety to Mali because of the unstable political situation. She tells WFP that the living conditions are difficult. “We have no means to survive on our own without the assistance [provided by humanitarian actors]. We are grateful for the WFP distributions which allow us to survive and feed our children” she stated, adding that “we would need more [assistance] to fully meet our needs”.

To give families like those of Tanima better options, WFP shifted part of the assistance to cash-based transfers as part of the monthly assistance to refugees in June 2016. Currently WFP’s food basket consists of a 35% in-kind commodities (rice, vegetable oil and salt– refugees’ preferred in-kind commodities) and a 65% of cash-based transfers.

Cash-based transfers give beneficiaries the freedom to choose what they want according to their culinary preferences, needs and also convenience. “We are happy to also receive cash, as now we can buy key commodities such as milk, meat, condiments and sauce for the rice, and charcoal for our stoves”, mentioned Tanima. Until recently, refugees relied on firewood fetched around the camp for cooking, putting further strain on an already degraded natural environment and causing further soil erosion and deforestation.

Cash-distributions have also given WFP more flexibility to provide a more reactive assistance to refugees in events of pipeline breaks. What is more, the cash-transfers have not had a direct impact on commodity prices in local markets since they were introduced in Mberra. On the contrary, the positive response of the local markets to the introduction of cash and availability of food are also good indicators of the sustainability of this transfer modality.

Through the support of ECHO, USAID Food for Peace and the governments of Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the Principauté de Monaco, WFP continued to assist registered refugees throughout 2016 and provided assistance to new arrivals since October. While the introduction of cash-based transfers is a positive innovation in the Mberra context, more needs to be done with the Government, donors and partners alike.

WFP’s aim is to assist 42,500 refugees throughout 2017, and to reach the most vulnerable through a targeting based on vulnerability instead of refugee status. WFP looks to explore innovative transfer modalities, such as electronic cash transfers, while designing longer-term activities to increase refugees’ and host populations’ self-reliance. This is in line with WFP efforts in Mauritania to strengthen synergies and better integrate humanitarian assistance and development activities.

WFP urgently needs USD 14 million to continue assisting refugees throughout 2017 with care and maintenance activities while developing innovative and long-term sustainable solutions. Over 80% of refugees continue to rely on WFP to meet their food and nutrition needs.

Written by Vanessa Rizzi