Cash transfers: A lifeline for families touched by Sierra Leone’s deadly mudslide

By Harriet Mason, Communications Officer, UNICEF Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Scenic mountains surround the temporary displacement camp in which Mohamed Koroma and his two children have been living for the last four weeks. He sits on a mattress in a tent as he slowly flips through pages of a notebook. He is checking the lesson notes of his son Alpha, who has just returned from school.

Mohamed’s family is one of the thousands that were affected by the recent flooding and landslide which claimed at least 500 lives in Freetown on 14 August. Many in this camp lost everything when a night of heavy rain triggered a landslide on one of the hillsides about the capital, sweeping away homes and possessions. “My family and I are lucky,” said Mohamed. “We survived because my children had gone on holidays and I had left to go pick them up. When we came back we couldn’t find our house or even recognize the spot where we lived. We lost everything we had.”

As part of an innovative scheme, nearly two thousand affected households are being directly supported with cash through mobile money transfers funded by UK aid from the British people (also known as DFID). The project is being led by the Government’s National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), with technical support from UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP). In recent years, unconditional cash transfers are increasingly used in emergency response as it allows households flexibility in deciding which needs require urgent attention, often making it a more empowering and dignified form of support.

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Mohamed Koroma goes through his son’s school work in a tent, at an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Freetown. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason

To help with the process, UNICEF gave the families new mobile phones and SIM cards to help them retrieve their cash.

“Families have lost lives and property through these disasters,” said Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim, UNICEF Sierra Leone Representative. “The cash transfer is timely and will provide vital support for affected households on their journey through recovery.”

The cash is in addition to the regular support provided immediately after the flooding and landslide. UNICEF supported the Government’s Office of National Security to set-up temporary displacement sites, including one of the largest at ‘Old Skool’. “My son and I are sharing a tent with about a dozen other people…It’s much better than sleeping in the cold or in a dangerous place,” said Mohamed. People living in the temporary camps are being provided with a range of support including clean water, appropriate sanitation, nutritional supplements, health, education, child protection and psychosocial services.

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Guy Warrington, British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, hands out a mobile phone to a beneficiary of the cash transfer, at an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Freetown. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason

“I am really grateful for the money that I have received. I have used part of it to buy uniforms, bags, books etc. for my children. They have started going to school and that is helping them forget about what happened,” said Mohamed.

The cash transfer scheme which will run from September to November 2017 and will provide beneficiaries Households with mobile money up to the equivalent of $180 (in three instalments) – to help families including women and children to survive and thrive. Additionally, a one-off conditional recovery aid cash transfer of the equivalent of $300 will be provided to households who wish to voluntarily get resettled in communities. An additional $216 from WFP cash for food for October and November will be provided to all beneficiaries who voluntarily resettle.

Martha Kamara a nine-months pregnant woman and her daughter narrowly escaped the landslide, and is also benefitting from the cash transfers. “Things are not easy at the moment,” said Martha. “My husband has died so I now have to take care of three children, myself, and the baby after I give birth. You can’t understand how grateful I am for the money I received. It has been really useful especially to provide my children’s school needs.”

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Martha Kamara and her daughter stand outside a tent in an internally displaced persons’ camp in Freetown. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason

As Sierra Leone recovers from the recent deadly incidents, the cash transfers bring relief to affected households as they try to resettle.

“I am looking forward to the money we will be given for relocation. I will use it to find a reasonable housing in a safe location and move there with my family,” said Mohamed. “I am fighting hard to put what has happened behind me and build a new life for my family and myself.”

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