Published on Mobile Active.org, by Kagtrin Verclas, June 6, 2010.
… The official Food Security survey of April 2010 states that there are 7.1 million people facing hunger: 3.3 million of those are considered to be facing extremely food shortages and unable to feed their families’ without help. Concern’s program is in Tahoua, the second worst affected part of the country.
Every day, we are working at maximum capacity on initiatives to prevent rates of malnutrition from reaching emergency thresholds. We are distributing seed packs and fertilizer to help families plant crops in time for the next harvest; providing nutrition support to children under five, pregnant women and mothers; and are launching an innovative use of mobile phone technology (and manual transfers) to distribute emergency cash to the most vulnerable women.
We have high hopes for this program—and we are starting to see its great potential. (Note of the editor: Concern conducted a similar mobile cash program in Kenya in 2008 that we wrote up on MobileActive.org here. Concern also published an extensive evaluation of the Kenya programme (PDF) … //
… We gave each of six of our education teams a laptop and a webcam, and this also involved some creative thinking. We have excellent local staff, but out of the 24 assigned to help verify the identities of the program participants, only four had strong computer skills—so we held intensive training sessions to get them up to speed on how to use the software and tools, and they went to work. Again, this might sound easy, but imagine taking your laptop to the desert, with no electricity available. How do you keep the sand out of it, how do you keep the power supply constant, and how do you control the crowd lined up waiting for you to process their ID cards?
Most of the women had never seen a photograph of themselves, and now they were looking at their faces and their friends on a computer screen. Everyone wanted to look—causing quite a commotion and slowing our teams down considerably. But an unexpected benefit to the work was that we brought a new experience and a bit of “entertainment” to these communities that are facing extreme hardship and uncertainty.
After six days, the process was complete and the databases were merged back in our main office. Many days and nights of printing cards, verifying identifies and villages followed. Three weeks later, 9,000 women now possess their first ever photo ID card, that will allow them to get their cash at authorized distribution points. The ID also allows Concern to effectively monitor the distributions and cross reference the program’s beneficiaries between programs. The IDs allow us to link and track in our database all our program participants across not only our cash programs, but also our nutrition programs. All of this is part of Concern’s operational research into the effectiveness of cash interventions in food crises and their impact on malnutrition rates.
We are working against time to give people the resources to survive massive food shortages: 7.1 million people face extreme hunger in Niger. Results from this innovative program and research will be valuable for analyzing the cost effectiveness of cash interventions in food emergencies and will provide learning and evidence to the international community for scale up. (full text).