The United Nations World Food Programme has used cash transfers through mobile money to assist 1,500 refugees who still depend on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic food and nutrition needs, as the lack of alternative livelihood opportunities is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
In May, WFP is initially targeting 1,500 Congolese refugees in the WFP-supported Mantapala Settlement, with the plan to gradually scale up and eventually reach the entire refugee population residing there, currently standing at about 14,300 people.
In the meantime, with COVID-19 precautionary measures in place, WFP will continue to provide food to the other refugees.
Facilitated by WFP and the Ministry of Health, awareness-raising sessions and a robust social and behaviour change communication campaign about the importance of good nutrition and a diverse diet will accompany WFP assistance.
WFP Zambia Representative, Jennifer Bitonde said Cash transfers are a form of assistance that empower refugees as it allows them to buy different types of food and choose what to consume, contributing to diversifying their diets.
Ms Bitonde said from experience elsewhere, cash assistance also helps stimulate the local markets and foster peaceful coexistence between refugees and host community, including local traders.
She said WFP’s plan is to provide each refugee with K155 (US$ 8.5) per month, enough to meet their daily food and nutrition needs, based on the market price of a standard food basket.
Ms Bitonde said due to insufficient funding, WFP is being forced to halve the cash transfer value and food entitlements for May saying the plan is to shift back to full entitlements for both food and cash as additional funding become available.
She said US$1.6 million is currently required to resume full entitlements and scale-up cash assistance from June 2020 to the end of the year.
Ms Bitonde said results from 2019 monitoring showed that when faced with food insecurity, refugees often cope by reducing the number of meals they consume or selling their productive assets, which further deteriorates their food and nutrition security.
She added that it is crucial that donors continue to support WFP’s refugee response in Zambia to ensure refugees can fully meet their daily food and nutrition needs.
Ms Bitonde stressed that while WFP is very grateful to its donors without whose generosity refugees would not survive, continued support is required as WFP’s assistance remains refugees’ main source of food.
She said 66 percent of refugee children under five are stunted and cannot afford to skip another meal.