Backpacks of cash: How to make payments when all the options are bad

By Lisa Cornish 25 November 2016

Two men deliver cash at a bank in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by: Axel Drainville / CC BY-NC

When the development sector responds to a crisis, one of the first logistical challenges they encounter is also among the trickiest ones: how to move money where it’s needed. There is no easy way to getting the often millions of dollars needed into remote localities with no formal banking, far-flung refugee camps, or active disaster zones.

The usual answer is cash. Yet while portable, dollars, pounds and euros come with a host of liabilities. Cash is bulky, requires heavy security and is the most easily siphoned. In one recent example, several major international NGOs, including the International Medical Corps and the International Relief Committee, are under investigation for involvement in the mismanagement and siphoning of funds during cross border relief from Turkey into Syria.

The corruptibility of cash makes the prospect of digital payments an alluring one for aid organizations. Payments could be made instantaneously and utilize a growing number of mobile platforms, even in areas with limited connectivity. The transactions would be trackable and transparent, improving both internal and public accountability.

Still, a complete switch to digital won’t come easily for relief organizations. Devex spoke to MasterCard and sQuid, two organizations working on digital payment options for crisis zones and fragile states, about the future of payment options that don’t require NGOs carrying bags of cash.

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About the author

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Lisa Cornishlisa_cornish

Lisa Cornish is a Devex reporter based in Canberra, Australia. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.

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