In Sierra Leone, cash transfers bring relief to families affected by deadly floods

By Harriet Mason, Communications Officer, UNICEF Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – After a 20-minute-walk up a steep rocky path in the Dwarzark community, I arrived at the new home of Foday and Mamiesia Kallon and their 14-month-old son. It’s a fresh start following the tragic events of 14 August 2017 when flooding and a landslide killed at least 500 people in Freetown, and swept away part of the Kallon’s family home and all their belongings.

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Foday Kallon looks at the remains of their former home which was partially destroyed by floods. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

“That night was a nightmare. It was terrible,” said an almost teary Foday, describing the moment flood waters came rushing through the house. Foday’s family is one of the thousands that were affected. He says they lived a normal and happy life until the tragic incident: “We had the basic things we needed to run our lives. But even though we lost everything, we are thankful we are alive.”

To support many of those hit by the emergency, nearly two thousand affected households have been directly supported with cash to rebuild their lives, delivered through mobile money transfers, funded by UK aid from the British people (also known as DFID). The project was led by the Government’s National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), with technical support from UNICEF and the World Food Programme, and support from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). As part of the process, families received new mobile phones and SIM cards from UNICEF, which were then set up to receive the cash transfers.

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Foday, Mamiesia and Lahai Kallon stand in front of their new home in Dwarzark, Freetown. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

The cash transfer scheme provided beneficiaries with mobile money up to the equivalent of $180 across three instalments to help families. Additionally, a one-off recovery aid cash transfer equivalent to $300, was provided to households like the Kallons who were living in temporary camps and displacement centres, to help them get resettled upon voluntarily leaving the camps. Unconditional cash transfers have been increasingly used in emergency response in recent years, as it allows households to prioritize their needs, often making it a more empowering and dignified form of support.

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Foday Kallon sits on his motorbike, partially paid for with money provided by UK aid from the British people. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

“The money UK aid gave to us has really helped us!” said Foday. “Apart from renting this place, we have used some to start a small business for my wife, and also made partial payment for a motorbike which I now run as a commercial transport,” he added.

According to Foday, deciding to invest was hard considering their other needs, but he was convinced that it will guarantee them a source of income to cover their living costs in the future. “Every week we use some of our earnings to offset the balance we owe for the motorbike and save some,” he said.

Mamiesia Kallon carries baby Lahai and a bowl of footwear she sells
Mamiesia Kallon carries baby Lahai and a bowl of footwear she sells ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

Even though memories of the tragic incidents of August 2017 still linger, families like Foday’s are striving to move on and rebuild their lives. “I say a big thank you to everyone who helped us. They did well for us,” said Foday. “The floods took away all we had, but we have started our lives afresh and we hope for nothing but the best.”