Mogadishu: In many ways, life has greatly improved in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, once known as the most dangerous city in the world. Shiny new buildings are popping up every week, and the old ones glisten with fresh coats of paint. Every weekend, families flock to the beach and youngsters pose for selfies to post on their social media accounts.
Retailers are embracing the system, because it brings them new customers who couldn’t afford to buy food from shops before. Photo:WFP/Laila Ali
And yet, in a stark reminder that not all is well, the city remains dotted with thousands of handmade shelters, pulled together from tree branches, tattered clothing and plastic sheets. These poorly constructed camps are home to internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled their home regions during the violent civil war. The camps are also home to the poorest of the urban poor, who have few economic opportunities and no social safety nets to cushion them when a disaster hits. These people face hunger, forced evictions, and a rising cost of living. For them, life is as hard as it ever was.
A new kind of help
In Mogadishu, WFP has for many years provided daily cooked meals in most districts of the capital to directly support those in need. The hot-meal centres operate in a similar style to soup kitchens; anybody in need of food can go and receive meals. The centres serve approximately 80,000 people per day.
Now, with support from ECHO, WFP is able to provide a new form of cash-based assistance to the most vulnerable of the people who depend on the cooked meals centres – Mogadishu’s poorest residents. Several thousand people who regularly come to the centres – including female-headed households, families with children under age 5 and the elderly – are now receiving electronic cash-based transfers using smartcards, which function in a similar way to debit cards. They can take these cards to selected local retailers, where they shop for food items to complement the WFP hot meals.
For now, people are receiving a little over a dollar a day on the cards. That may not sound like a lot, but it makes an enormous difference to a family with little or no income.
[quote|"My family depends on the cooked meals centre, and being able to buy some of our food is a big help."]
Fadumo Mohammed, a mother of four young children, is one of the people receiving the cash-based transfers. Fadumo is now able to buy things like milk, vegetables and other fresh foods not distributed at the cooked meals centre.
[story|648884|647700]“I am very happy with the support I am getting. My family depends on the cooked meals centre, and [now] being able to buy some of our food is a big [help]. I would like to thank all those who made this possible,” she said, handing over her card to the shopkeeper, who inserts it into a point-of-sales device – provided by WFP – before totalling her bill. Fadumo authorises payment from her card through a fingerprint verification.
The fingerprint acts as Fadumo’s signature, adding a layer of security by protecting her entitlement and ensuring that only she or her children can use the card. This makes it less likely that someone might steal her card, as only the people who are registered on the card can use it.
Because of generous support from donors like ECHO, WFP is able to use more electronic cash-based transfers in Somalia than ever before to support vulnerable people in places where markets are functioning. WFP has established a country-wide network of retailers and is constantly adding more, so that vulnerable people receiving cash-based transfers can have a greater choice about where and when they shop.
WFP closely monitors the shops to see that they continue stocking a wide range of healthy foods, and to be sure that they aren’t inflating their prices for people who use the cards. Retailers are embracing the system, because it brings them new customers who couldn’t afford to buy food from shops before.