Richard Butler | Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce And Industries | July 8th, 2020
The compounding impacts of COVID-19 restrictions and Tropical Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu, spanning from March until today has resulted in a significant reduction in income and livelihoods across Vanuatu, particularly amongst households with pre-existing vulnerabilities. In order to address the needs of our people Oxfam in Vanuatu is planning to deploy a large-scale cash transfer response, and as winners of international recognition on innovation Oxfam is implementing their proven approach for humanitarian response/emergency recovery here in Vanuatu – an Unblocked Cash response
What is Unblocked Cash?
This solution focuses on the distribution of support via goods and services to those most vulnerable as a result of the COVID-19 and TC Harold compounding crises. Rather than receiving funds in the form of cash or food supplies, the recipients are provided with a way to pay for goods and services via a “tap and pay” card, which is used at vendors using a smart phone app so they can choose what to purchase that best suits their recovery needs. Local vendors will be part of this innovative approach, working as suppliers of goods and services to their community households, being reimbursed directly by the project. No money exchanges hands; vendors are provided with smartphones and trained on how to use them to accept card-based payments.
The card provided to recipients is an unrestricted “e-voucher”, which allows recipients to pay for any goods that vendors across the network are selling. All transactions, including what is being purchased and where, is fully traceable, and is available via an online dashboard monitored by Oxfam and partners.
Research has shown that in emergencies, cash solutions can often meet people’s immediate needs more quickly and appropriately than the direct distribution of aid such as food supplies and shelter for example. Cash gives people choices and removes issues such as access to goods and services by allowing for services to be accessed like transport to and from the market.
The Importance of Partnerships
Oxfam is not working alone. Instead Oxfam is partnering with a number of local counterparts including the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC). VBRC, a sub-committee of the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. VBRC has been selected to provide support in identifying and training suppliers and vendors, formal and informal, who will be providing the goods and services to selected households in Santo, Tanna and Efate. The project will be generating much needed business for the small shops, suppliers and transport operators in affected areas. VBRC is proud to be partnering with Oxfam on such an exciting project and will be travelling into the field in the coming weeks to begin their vendor surveying.
This initiative follows on from Oxfam’s successful piloting of an Unblocked Cash project, undertaken in Pango, Port Vila in 2019. The successful pilot followed the first multi-purpose grant program ever implemented in the Pacific in 2018-2019, when Oxfam used the provided assistance to the families displaced by the eruption of the Ambae volcano, forcing the relocation of thousands of people to safer locations. This month, the Unblocked Cash Project won the EU Horizon 2020 award for blockchain technology use in the aid sector, demonstrating Vanuatu’s contribution to global innovation has made a major impact.
Oxfam and the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council look forward to the roll out of this important humanitarian response initiative in September 2020.