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famine

Cash as a response to humanitarian distress

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Men thrashing grain in IndiaIn the context of the subsidies regime in India, there is an ongoing debate on the suitability of cash transfers. With the much talked about JAM trinity – the Jan Dhan zero-balance bank accounts, Aadhar and mobile phones, it certainly appears that the state-sponsored welfare system is set to see a significant shift. While this shift may well fall short of being transformative, we could still expect an improvement in how benefits are delivered with reduced leakages to recipients. The use of the JAM model to extend the welfare net and to improve its efficiency implies a decisive move towards cash transfers, and therefore, one may be closer to settling the debate, at least in terms of favoured government policy.

But the argument in favour of cash is not new. I recently came across a 1986 United Nations University WIDER paper by Amartya Sen where he elegantly outlines five arguments in favour of direct distribution of cash in times of food crises. In this paper Food, Economics and Entitlements, Sen tackles this question in the context of a famine. First, Sen demonstrates how even in contexts where aggregate food output is plentiful, the ability of the poor to acquire this food is a whole different matter. Localised food shortages and famine-like situations can arise due to various reasons – at times when the prices of staples rise sharply, or when the prices of products the poor sell fall sharply. However, this isn’t obvious to policymakers as long as they view food sufficiency through the lens of per-capita food production alone.

When famines manifest themselves, there could be multiple policy response options. Sen talks of direct food distribution as the favoured method in those times. Three decades down the line, food relief continues to be popular in times of distress, even as direct cash transfers (as described above) are gaining ground as a favoured instrument of social welfare policy. Policy responses in these times is meant to enhance the ability of those affected, to ‘acquire’ more food. Both market-based solutions that begin with greater availability of cash, and direct distribution are potential paths to this end.
 

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

ijnet
How InfoAmazonia is taking data storytelling to the next level

“Last year, InfoAmazonia launched a new website that began tracking environmental threats to the Amazon region, such as deforestation and wildfires, and displaying them in maps. Now, we're taking it to the next level by using interactive photo galleries and video mashups as a unique storytelling tool.

In addition, we are adding functionality to the site with the “distribution widget,” which will allow journalists and NGOs to customize their own maps and data layers.”  READ MORE

Refuge in Nairobi

Asa Torkelsson's picture

Zeinab Lebon, 65, with her family

In the Nairobi slum of Kawangware, people like Said, 33, are struggling to help relatives fleeing the drought in Somalia. The full-time gardener and father of four is providing refuge to his mother, Zeinab Lebon, 65, and six other relatives. All share his family’s two bedrooms of 144 square feet each, and he now supports 12 people on one salary.

“We do not have water or toilet; I have to pay every day 1 Kenya schilling for every person for the toilet, 20 schillings for 20 liters of water,”  says Said. Yet, he now also plans to bring his mother-in-law, who is 70, from Daadab in northeastern Kenya. She lost her husband to a stray bullet as they took off for Daadab on foot from Mandera, on the Somali border.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Global Voices
India: Anti-Corruption Campaign Fires a Country’s Imagination

“In April this year Global Voices reported how social media was being used in India to power civil society's push for a proposed anti-corruption bill (popularly known as the Jan Lokpal Bill). There was, at the time, a lot of debate about the sustainability of the fledgling movement, which was being led from the front by a Gandhian social activist Sri Anna Hazare.

A lot has happened since then but what has been undeniable is that the anti-corruption movement, after having proved the nay-saying pundits wrong, has gradually managed to capture the imagination of a large section of the Indian public.” READ MORE

Ever on the brink of disaster

Fred Owegi's picture

Farmers guide their livestock in the arid region of Mandera, Kenya

Earlier this month, I participated in a four-day mission to Mandera, a county in northeastern Kenya, some 640 km from Nairobi on the Somali border. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Agency (ECHO) arranged the mission to assess progress of various community-managed drought risk reduction initiatives.

We visited several projects being implemented across Mandera’s central, northern and eastern districts, an area which is home to more than a million people, according to the last census in 2009. The area is classified as arid and receives on average 250 mm of rainfall in a good year. But for the last several months, not a single drop of rain has fallen and all water reserves have been depleted. Famine could be imminent in Mandera and its neighboring counties if policies are not put in place to prevent it.

Being my first visit to Mandera the mission was eye-opening but also disquieting, coming as it did in the midst of what is now accepted as “the most severe drought in the Horn of Africa in the last 60 years”.

What Influences Individual Donations to Disaster Victims?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

We see donation appeals everywhere these days - to help the people in Japan, to help the people in Darfur, to help the people in Haiti. What influences our decision to give? An interesting study comes from British psychologists, who analyzed how individuals respond to donation appeals in the wake of man-made disasters - like war - versus natural disasters. The authors around Hanna Zagefka from Royal Holloway University in London found that natural disasters elicit more donations than those caused by people. Their explanation: people tend to assign some blame to the victims of man-made disaster, while they blame no one for being overrun by a Tsunami.