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Cash assistance gives more freedom of choice to refugees in Uganda

Refugees in Arua, Northern Uganda, queue to receive cash distributed by the World Food Programme. © European Union/ECHO/Bertha Wangari

Since 2011, Uganda has experienced a number of refugee emergencies with a spike of arrivals from South Sudan since war broke out there in December 2013. Today, the country hosts more than half a million refugees and asylum seekers from 33 different countries. The majority of refugees are nationals of the Democratic Republic of Congo, followed by those from South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi. The European Commission has been responding to this refugee crisis providing food and shelter assistance, and financing projects that build the self-reliance of the refugees.

In 2015, the European Commission gave a total of €10 million for the refugee response in Uganda. It currently supports the UN World Food Programme's cash programmes, which provide about 35 000 refugees with cash in Uganda. In addition, it also funds food distribution activities: delivery of high-energy biscuits upon arrival for new refugees, cooked meals at transit centres, and dry food rations.

Bertha Wangari, Information and Communication Assistant, Central Eastern and Southern Africa, ECHO @ECHO_CESAfrica

It’s hot and dusty.

The ground is dry and parched. People living here determinedly plant new maize seeds every season only for the stalks to wither away before bearing any fruit.

This is the Rhino camp refugee settlement in Arua, Northern Uganda. Men and women queue next to a blue van, identification papers at hand.

They are refugees, mostly from South Sudan, but a few of them are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, like 41-year-old Janet Tatima.

Janet Tatima is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She says receiving cash enables her to buy meat, fish and sugar for her children, which they lacked for many years. © European Union/ECHO/Bertha Wangari.

Tatima has been living in the camp since 2012. She came from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her husband died there, but she was able to run with her five children. She also adopted two children who were travelling unaccompanied with the escaping crowds.

I have been receiving cash from the World Food Programme for the last year,” says Tatima. “I prefer the cash to the food rations by far!” she adds with a chuckle.

Receiving cash makes me feel normal again. I am able to do my own budget for the money and to plan and decide what my children will eat for a whole month.” – Tatima.

Before the cash distribution started, she was grateful to receive food rations to keep her family alive. However, it was the same food all year round. “When the option to receive cash was introduced, I was very eager to get on board. And I am happy I did because now I am able to buy meat and sugar especially. My children love the food I am now able to provide for them, especially the porridge because I now add some sugar to it!” she said.

Uganda allocates refugees a small portion of land and allows them to grow their own food. But with persistent dry conditions and failed rains, Tatima and many others in the Rhino camp did not harvest much to support their families this season. “We have some area where we can grow some food but the ground is not arable. It’s too hard and dry,” says Tatima. “We have even received seeds for planting and farm implements, but these have not helped. The rains continually fail here so we have to wait for the cash we receive from the World Food Programme. It is our only source of livelihood,” she says.

We started the cash transfer programme here a year ago. The refugees choose to either be on the cash programme or receive food assistance, Gloria Komakech, World Food Programme’s field monitoring officer.

Three different categories of refugees receive different rations, depending on their needs.

We differentiate and allocate different amounts of cash for those that have been here for a long time; a different amount for those who arrived recently, and a different amount for extremely vulnerable refugees who include the chronically ill, the disabled, the single headed households and those households whose head is above 60.” said Gloria.

The European Commission is committed to using the most effective and efficient modality in the provision of humanitarian assistance,” says Eunice Maina, the European Commission’s humanitarian programme assistant for Uganda. “The cash transfer modality was started in Uganda in June 2014 on a pilot basis. Initially the refugees were hesitant for various reasons, but now this approach is gaining more popularity!” 

Gatwech Kher from South Sudan also prefers to receive cash to buy food. He, too, likes having a choice in deciding what his family eats.

Gatwech Kher, from South Sudan, is happy that he is able to provide fish for his children again since he started receiving cash from the World Food Programme. © European Union/ECHO/Bertha Wangari

I am happy that I am able to buy fish, beans, potatoes and green vegetables for my children. Although the money is just enough for food, it is such a relief to be able to eat something different and to decide how to spend the money I am given for my household,” he says.

In all, cash transfer has demonstrated to be effective and efficient in responding to the most pressing needs of refugees,” says Eunice. “But more importantly it has increased their purchasing power as well as the dignity of the refugees. For this, we see cash as the best value for our money”.

Last updated
24/02/2016