Giving Choice and Hope to Refugees in Uganda

Since 2013 nearly 560,000 South Sudanese refugees have sought safety in Uganda and WFP has assisted them by providing monthly general food rations to meet their basic food needs. Recently the WFP has introduced a cash programme, giving people the option to choose a cash allowance instead of food, providing them with the opportunity to decide for themselves what they eat.

The West Nile region of northern Uganda is known for its tall teak trees.  In the Alere section of the Adjumani refugee settlement many of them were planted by South Sudanese refugees explains 28 year old Abiar Keech Bior.  Like so many, Abiar fled her home in Jonglei state South Sudan to escape violent raids in which men came and took away young children, stole cattle and set homes on fire.  

Having lived in the refugee settlement since 2013, Abiar and her family are some of the 65,000 refugees countrywide now given the option to receive a monthly cash allocation instead of their general food ration from WFP.  

“I’m very happy that WFP has given us a cash option. We get to buy Azam flour, a type that we like,” she said with a smile as she walks back from collecting her monthly cash allocation of UGX 196,000 or the equivalent of US$57.6.  “We don’t have to spend money transporting the food as money is light to carry. We also don’t have to grind the food we receive as we can buy milled cereal. Later this afternoon, I will go to shop in Adjumani town. I will stock up on Azam, cooking oil, beans, onions and sugar,” she added.  

Managing the Money

In 2014 WFP started offering a choice between food and cash for refugees who have been in the country longer in settlements where the surrounding markets are functional. At each distribution, WFP partners sensitize the refugees on the types of food they ought to buy with their money and how to make a budget to plan their expenditure.

Abiar is careful with her family’s monthly allowance and supplements the support from WFP by growing vegetables around her homestead, off land provided by the Uganda Government, and sells them in the market. This enables her to buy other types of food, such as meat, fish, more vegetables and milk, which her mother likes. She has no other source of income.

“Meat is expensive,” Abiar said.  “I only buy it about twice a month if I get some money from my market business. I don’t use the WFP money for buying meat.  I use it only for the key food items.”

Increasing the Impact

Cash is a more flexible and appreciated form of assistance among refugees as it gives them the ability to decide for themselves what they eat.  Cash transfers are also more economical for WFP to deliver and the benefits of WFP’s operation are extended to the local community by stimulating local trade through increased demand for locally produced food.

As such, WFP, the UNHCR and the Government of Uganda have agreed to expand WFP cash transfers. By March 2017, 200,000 refugees in Uganda will receive their food assistance in the form of cash. In three of the eight settlements where WFP provides both food and cash assistance, refugees will move completely to cash-based support by the end of 2016. In the remaining five settlements, refugees which arrived as recently as June 2016 and extremely vulnerable individuals will be given then choice between receiving cash or food.  

The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) has prioritized cash distributions within its 2016 contribution to WFP. Other donors to the cash transfer programme in 2016 are Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and United States of America.