Cash and voucher

Thailand: Burmese refugees - Action contre la Faim
Thailand: Burmese refugees - Action contre la Faim
Photo : EC/ECHO/Odile Minichetti

To ensure humanitarian aid reaches those with the greatest need as fast as possible, some donors – including ECHO – now give cash or vouchers direct to the most vulnerable people. Although not suitable for every situation, this relatively new approach can be very effective if properly implemented.

ECHO's use of cash & vouchers

ECHO uses cash, vouchers and other alternative forms of humanitarian assistance only after systematic analysis of all options. In most cases, a mixture of aid-delivery mechanisms is used.
The use of cash and vouchers has been increasing in recent years:

  • From 2007-2010, the proportion of ECHO funding channelled into cash-based programmes more than doubled.
  • The fastest increase has been in the use of cash & vouchers in providing food assistance – up from 2% in 2007 to 20% in 2010.
  • The fastest-growing types of cash-and-voucher aid are: unconditional cash transfers, cash for work programmes and voucher projects for commodity distribution
  • All ECHO food assistance projects in Pakistan and Haiti currently have a cash or voucher based element.


  • When disaster strikes, cash and vouchers are quick to deliver, cost effective and provide beneficiaries with greater choice.
  • They can have many secondary positive impacts – benefiting local economies, empowering beneficiaries, giving them back their dignity and preparing the ground for LRRD (linking relief, rehabilitation and development).

For greater efficiency

To ensure that cash and voucher initiatives achieve their greatest potential, with minimum risk of unintended negative consequences, ECHO's work will focus on four points:

  • evidence-based market analysis and decision-making to systematize and scale up the application of cash and voucher programmes
  • development of humanitarian information systems, new mechanisms and other tools to enhance the capacity and coherence of cash-based projects
  • greater coordination and links with national governments in disaster response
  • investigation of how new technologies can be used for cash-based projects.

In particular, ECHO recognises that care is sometimes needed to ensure that cash and voucher programmes:

  • do not feed inflation or depress local markets
  • really reach the most vulnerable groups (women, children, the elderly)
  • do not give rise to local social imbalances.

Stories from the field

Related information