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WFP Launches Phone-Based Pilot Project To Reach Crisis-Hit Food-Insecure Ivorians

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a pilot programme that uses mobile phone technology to facilitate cash transfers to 54,000 people living in poor districts of Abidjan to assist them to buy food.

ABIDJAN-- More than 10,000 vulnerable households in Abobo and Yopougon will receive an SMS text message on their mobiles alerting them to the transaction and allowing them to withdraw money from local cash points of the telecoms provider MTN. The districts were badly affected in the post-election crisis and the poorest families struggle to put food on the table.

“This innovative method of payment is particularly suited to households with low purchasing power,” said Alain Cordeil, WFP Country Director in Côte d’Ivoire. “WFP increasingly delivers assistance to the hungry in the form of cash transfers in urban areas where there is food in the markets but the poorest people just cannot afford to buy it.”

The goal of this pilot project is to make up for the loss of purchasing power of the poorest families in recent months, to give them access to a wider choice of food available in local markets.

Beneficiaries have been given SIM cards that enabled them to receive their first transfer. The second transfer will take place at the end of October. A total of US$ 1.6 million will be disbursed in the pilot project.

“This project is ground-breaking for WFP in West Africa, as it is the first time that we use a mobile service provider as a financial partner,” said Cordeil.  “The unconditional cash transfer will be implemented over two months, with each household receiving a total of US$ 75 per month, equivalent to the food basket of an average family of five,” he added.

The initiative was made possible with money earmarked from a total $US 10.7 million donation from USAID towards WFP’s emergency operation in Côte d’Ivoire. The American international aid agency, which is the biggest contributor to the WFP emergency operation, has also contributed towards general food distributions and towards the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) operated by WFP.

Since the beginning of the crisis, which started at the end of 2010, WFP has brought food into the country and provided more than 11,800 metric tons of food assistance to 560,000 vulnerable people.

WFP’s emergency operation in Côte d’Ivoire, which will cost around US$ 44 million in total, faces a current funding shortfall of US$ 10.2 million