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MOZAMBIQUE: Cash not food needed to help flood evacuees recovery, says NGO

19 February 2007, IRIN

JOHANNESBURG:  As floods continue to displace thousands of Mozambicans in the central region, Save the Children UK has urged the humanitarian community to consider cash grants rather than food aid for long term recovery.

"This is not to undermine the validity and importance of food aid interventions for people currently experiencing shortages, but to avoid dependency, to stimulate local markets, to give people the dignity of choice," said Chris McIvor, programme director of the child rights agency.

"We believe that some level of debate needs to be had within the humanitarian community as to what might be more appropriate."

According to the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), 85,000 people have had to flee their homes in the four central provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia following heavy rainfall. Water discharged from Cahora Bassa dam, in Tete Province in the northwest, has also displaced communities downstream. The WFP and its partners have begun distributing food aid to 2,000 people in temporary accommodation centres in Caia district in Sofala Province and 6,100 people in the Mutarara district of Tete Province.

McIvor said procuring food could be a lengthy affair if it has to be imported, and past experience in Mozambique had shown that it could take between three to six months to secure supplies of needed items. Any food procured in the middle of February from outside the country might only be distributed in May, at the earliest. "If direct food aid is required then food should be purchased from those parts of Mozambique that have a surplus and if food is available locally in communities then cash is probably the best option. If people have been given the means to replant and re-establish, there should not be any need of food distribution in June-July," he said.
"Distributing food aid can disrupt the local market, as the prognosis for the harvest in Mozambique has been generally good, and food is available in markets near the affected areas," McIvor added.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Early Warning Department had forecast "better than normal harvests in the centre and north of the country, in the areas not directly affected by flood damage", which meant the staple food, maize, was available in the affected central provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia, with additional supplies available from Nampula province in the north, McIvor said.

Experience during the "much more serious floods" in 2000 and 2001 along the Limpopo, Save and Zambezi river valleys had shown that markets soon opened near the accommodation camps, because traders were quick to use the opportunity offered by the concentration of people, he pointed out. In 2000 half a million people were made homeless and 700 lost their lives.

Cash grants given out by Save the Children and the development agency, Oxfam, to those affected by the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, and by his organisation and WFP to Indonesians affected by the Tsunami in 2004, had helped their respective markets to recover.

"If all items distributed to the flood-affected [Mozambican] households are procured outside of the area, none of the benefit will accrue to these [local] economies," McIvor said.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Mozambique said it supported the cash transfer intervention. "We have been moving in that direction," said spokesman Tatenda Mutenga. "We have been running a cash voucher scheme for Mozambican small-scale farmers for the past three years. The vouchers give the farmers the freedom to procure what they need - seeds, farming implements or fertilisers."

In its annual report earlier this month, FAO advocated cash transfers over food aid, which it said disrupted local markets. It did make allowances for food aid where emergency assistance was needed.

A cash grant scheme from March through to May would help households cope better when the floodwaters receded, said McIvor. "People will return home and if they have seed, they will re-plant, with the harvest expected in June-July. If food reserves have been lost, families will suffer a food gap from March to July." Food prices would probably remain stable in March, April, May, as this was the harvest period and supply was high.

Cash grants would also help households to re-establish their homes; building if necessary, buying utensils or assets such as animals, agricultural tools or sewing machines and other basic needs destroyed in the floods. More importantly, cash grants helped "to restore the dignity of people who have been affected by a natural disaster - people can quickly take charge of their own lives and are not put in the position of passive recipients of goods/services provided by a third party," he added.

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