Cash vs. in-kind aid: Do humanitarians need to pick one over the other?

Saraswati Tamang holds money she just received outside a cash distribution center in Chhahre Bazaa, Nepal. Chhahre Bazar in Nuwakot District is one of the areas hit by two heavy earthquakes in April and May 2015 that killed 8,600 people, damaged 473,000 houses and left over 1 million people in need of assistance. Photo by: Mercy Corps

“Why not cash?”

It’s a question included in the 10 principles guiding multipurpose cash-based assistance outlined by the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department earlier this year. But it’s also a question that humanitarians themselves should ask when planning the best way to deliver aid during crises and disasters.

While cash transfers have found their way into humanitarian response strategies, concerns about inflation and improper use of these funds — worries that cash will overwhelm markets or will be spent on the wrong things — continue to limit their use at a larger scale.

Cash transfers, according to Sarah Bailey, research associate at the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group, “reveal double standards in humanitarian aid. They are held to a higher standard for justifying the decision to use them. They face a higher bar for understanding risks and markets.”

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About the author

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    Anna Patricia Valerio

    Anna Patricia Valerio is a Manila-based development analyst focusing on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.