Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme has continued to support the food and nutritional needs of 14,300 refugees in the Mantapala Refugee Settlement. The refugees receive a monthly food basket of fortified maize meal, beans, fortified oil and iodized salt.
Specialised nutritious food is also included in the food basket to improve the refugee’s nutritional status.
On 3rd May 2020, WFP started piloting the cash assistance programme in the Settlement, initially targeting 1,500 refugees with the plan to gradually scale up to 5,000 refugees.
The selection of refugees was a consultative process at community level, with refugees deciding among themselves who wanted to shift to cash assistance.
Due to limited of funding, the cash entitlement was reduced to K85 per person per month in May with full entitlements K155 per person per month expected to resume in the coming months thanks to donor contributions.
Cash assistance has the potential to significantly impact food and nutrition security in Mantapala Refugee Settlement, according to WFP Country Representative Jennifer Bitonde who said giving cash to the refugees will empower them to choose the food they consume and will enable them to buy different types of food, helping them to diversify their diets.
Mrs Bitonde said the cash transfers will also help stimulate local markets, contributing towards peaceful coexistence between refugees, local traders and the host communities.
She said cash assistance is particularly preferable over food distributions during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will be delivered using mobile money services through the network operator MTN.
Mrs Bitonde said the use of electronic money over cash and food limits human contact and the need to gather for distributions, which could assist in slowing the pandemic transmission within Zambia.
She said while families are free to spend the cash as they want, WFP is working with partners to sensitize the refugees to prioritize nutritious food.
She said ahead of the CBT roll-out, WFP conducted a robust awareness and sensitisation campaign on the importance of good nutrition and diversified diets, as well as financial literacy to empower recipients, especially women, in the management of cash.
Mrs Bitonde added that the shift to cash assistance has been made possible with funding from donors that have generously supported the refugees since 2017 when the refugees first arrived in Zambia.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic evolving and intensifying in Zambia, it is crucial that donors and partners continue to support the refugees to avoid any future funding shortfalls”, Mrs Bitonde added.
She said most of the refugees (80 percent) are women and children who require humanitarian assistance to survive, reflected by the high stunting rates of 66 percent in children under five.
She added that in times of hardship, they often engage in negative coping mechanisms, which could expose them to the virus and erode progress made in improving their food security of the affected families.