Over 3.5 million people in Kenya suffer from severe hunger. Several factors, from failed back-to-back rainy spells and swarms of locusts to the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and now the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, have led to the loss of livelihoods as the cost of living soars. In Garissa, northern Kenya, the community is not only plagued by drought, but also by insecurity. As a result, in March 2022, the government imposed a sunset-to-dawn curfew. This meant access to some of the hardest-hit areas was nearly impossible due to increasing criminal attacks fueled by conflicts over land and other resources such as water and pasture. In order to access drought-affected communities inaccessible due to insecurity and poor road infrastructure, CARE International has acquired an existing fintech cash transfer disbursement platform in Kenya.
Mobile phone penetration in Kenya is over 91%. Of these, 96% of users have mobile money accounts on the M-PESA platform. The platform works by allowing users to register an account with a mobile operator, from which they can then securely deposit and withdraw funds through a wide network of agents. CARE International in Kenya used the platform to reach out to over 21,000 drought-affected people in northern Kenya. “Using a criterion based on CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis, the most vulnerable were registered with the support of local leadership and cash transfer committees. CARE checked the registers of those on record to ensure their identity numbers matched their phone numbers. The list was sent to CARE Finance to process the payments,” said Sam Ombeki, CARE Kenya Senior Program Manager.
Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the identified individuals each received Kes. 5,100 ($43.78) to their mobile money accounts. CARE International in Kenya negotiated with Safaricom Limited, the mobile operator, for subsidized transaction fees for recipients. To ensure recipients receive maximum funds, CARE Kenya also assumed withdrawal fees ($1) for recipient transaction fees. Before money transfers, CARE conducted a pre-assessment survey and part of the survey aimed to assess access to Mpesa outlets, especially in remote locations. The selected sites where the exercise was conducted were not accessible to CARE for security reasons, particularly those located near the Kenya-Somalia border.
Mobile cash transfers through money platforms are a simple and sustainable way to support individuals in a humanitarian crisis like the one being experienced in Northern Kenya. Maureen Miruka, Country Director of CARE Kenya, said: “Money transfers via mobile phone are not only a sustainable way to reach affected people in distant areas, but also a dignified approach to support the vulnerable. Because the recipients can use the funds according to their primary needs. The pre-evaluation survey found that recipients’ spending priorities were food, water, school fees, veterinary services, livestock, personal hygiene items and loan repayments.”
Salatho Hussein, a mother of six, has experienced the devastating effects of the drought firsthand. After losing his livestock and the means to buy groceries, the money helped meet some of the needs in their home. “My children didn’t have enough school fees and we had little to eat. With the money I was able to pay off part of our debts and the school fees for my children. The withdrawal process was quite easy and quick since the Mpesa agent is close to my house,” Salatho said.
By using existing infrastructure, operational costs have been reduced as fewer resources are required and more funds have been allocated to those affected. Another benefit of using Mobile Money is that it also reduces the carbon footprint of the program. The method is also foolproof as the cash is sent directly to the registered recipient and not through a third party that could be subject to abuse or fraud.
Finding solutions, especially in the ever-expanding field of technology, is key to ensuring vulnerable communities are reached in their spaces. This honors them as they are able to continue their way of life despite disruptions caused by circumstances beyond their control. Adopting existing technologies is key to innovative responses in a humanitarian crisis like the one in northern Kenya.
The program reached over 10,700 women in both Garissa and Mandera. By using a transparent, inclusive and participatory registration process, the exercise ensured that there was consensus on who would be prioritized in the process.
Much remains to be done with this intervention as the drought worsens in Garissa and Mandera. Adopting fintech to reach those affected offers a viable and safe alternative to ensure the most vulnerable are reached.
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