Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing one of the most alarming food crises in decades, affecting roughly 146 million people and driven largely by climate-induced drought. Through its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) supports many Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Africa to protect the lives, livelihoods and prospects of millions of people. The Djibouti Red Crescent Society is one of them: with technical advisory support from 510, the data and digital initiative of the Netherlands Red Cross, the National Society takes the lead in providing a blend of digital and physical cash assistance to communities in need.

Food insecurity in Djibouti a pressing issue

Djibouti, like many countries in the region, is severely affected by food insecurity. 42% of its people live in extreme poverty, and local livestock is negatively affected by an increasingly hot, dry climate which has led to insufficient rainfall for four consecutive years. This is further driven by the socio-economic effects of COVID-19, locust infestations causing damage to crops, as well as the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and its consequences on the food supply chain. Together, these risk factors have exhausted the coping mechanisms of affected communities to mitigate these risks. In response, and with IFRC’s DREF, the Djibouti Red Crescent Society provides urgent assistance to communities in emergencies through cash, both in the form of over-the-counter and mobile money, depending on local circumstances. With this operation being the National Society’s very first instance of implementing cash assistance, 510 scoped options to use digital systems for cash assistance in November 2022, as well as providing remote and on-the-ground support for multipurpose cash assistance ever since. This has included the digitization of monitoring and cash transfers.

Registration of community members for the cash assistance program, February 2023. © Angelina Savchuk / 510

The importance of localizing humanitarian aid

With local humanitarian actors often being able to access areas that international actors do not, their presence within communities during crises is essential to link immediate response efforts to longer term preparedness and recovery. Therefore, the Djibouti Red Crescent Society’s active involvement in, and ownership over, the cash assistance program’s setup was an essential ingredient to its success. To this end, 510 deployed Cash Information Manager Angelina Savchuk to strengthen the Djibouti Red Crescent Society’s capacities in autonomously providing cash assistance at scale to those most affected by food insecurity in the country. Working towards this goal, Angelina collaborated with the National Society to set up the cash information management system in line with their needs, integrated it with relevant products to complement it, and trained local staff on the system’s usage and maintenance. Digitizing the program was particularly challenging, as the distributions were taking place in an environment with no internet availability. Hence, traditional information management systems which rely heavily on online services were not adapted in this context.

The Djibouti Red Crescent Society team showed a keen interest to switch from paper-based to digital information management tools and most importantly, being able to absorb them and take over. Since the beginning, the National Society has been the owner of the tools and knows how to use and reproduce them, which is a big success. While the team might still need our support for more advanced tools to scale up their cash programs, I am confident that after training and additional peer learning sessions, they would be able to completely manage them on their own as well!Angelina Savchuk, Cash Information Manager at 510

Delivery of cash assistance to a community member who was unable to attend the distribution because she gave birth four days prior, February 2023. © Angelina Savchuk / 510

After this in-depth collaboration, the Djibouti Red Crescent Society has strengthened its capacities to use digital systems for cash assistance in response to potential future crises. As Angelina’s time in Djibouti coincided with the latest preparations for the rollout of the cash assistance program, she was able to set up the information management system optimally, hand-in-hand with the National Society.  

“Before, delivering cash assistance digitally was a heavy task. Now, we feel like we are comfortable with operating a cash program! Together with the 510 team, we identified the best way to reach communities in need during a challenging time. We developed a QR code to facilitate the cash distribution process, which was very helpful as we don’t have a cash platform.”Hawa Ibrahim Robleh, Disaster Management Coordinator and Cash Focal Point at the Djibouti Red Crescent Society  

What’s next?

So far, the program has targeted about 1,500 households, equating to around 9,000 people, in two regions of Djibouti which were deemed most vulnerable to food insecurity due to a high concentration of internally displaced persons, according to the Djibouti Red Crescent Society. In monetary terms, this equates to over 38 million Djiboutian francs (= 200,000€) distributed in three cycles through both electronic and direct cash. But the needs are still enormous. Projections from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification indicate that around 285,000 people in Djibouti will be acutely food insecure by the end of the year. Based on this, the Djibouti Red Crescent Society plans to scale up their cash information management services to reach even more people in need. 

This inspiring story from Djibouti highlights that even with limited local resources or time constraints, programs and systems to help more people in a quicker and more efficient way are possible for National Societies, wherever they are. 510 stands ready to design and develop more solutions with and for National Societies, which are manageable by them and can outlast short-term emergency response cycles. 

We want to hear from you!

Are you interested in collaborating with us on similar solutions in the field of Cash and Voucher Assistance, tailored to your context? Please reach out to:  

Service Coordinator, Cash and Voucher Assistance: Angelina Savchuk