Adopting Mobile Technology in a Humanitarian Response to Drought-Ravaged Communities in Northern Kenya

More than 3.5 million people are facing severe famine in Kenya. Several factors, ranging from successive failed rainy seasons to swarms of locusts, to the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns and now the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, have led to a loss of livelihoods while the cost of living is skyrocketing. In Garissa, in northern Kenya, the community is not only ravaged by drought, but also plagued by insecurity. As a result, in March 2022, the government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew. This meant that access to some of the hardest hit areas was nearly impossible due to increased criminal attacks, fueled by disputes over land and other resources such as water and pasture. To access drought-affected communities inaccessible due to insecurity and poor road infrastructure, CARE International in Kenya adopted an existing fintech platform to disburse cash transfers.

In Kenya, mobile phone penetration exceeds 91%. Of these, 96% of users have mobile money accounts on the M-PESA platform. The platform works by allowing users to open an account with a mobile service provider from which they can then deposit and withdraw money securely through an extensive network of agents. CARE International in Kenya used the platform to reach over 21,000 drought-affected people in northern Kenya. “Using a criteria informed by CARE’s rapid gender analysis, the most vulnerable were registered with the help of local leaders and cash transfer committees. CARE validated registrant records to ensure that their ID numbers matched their phone numbers. The list has been submitted to CARE Finance to process the payments,” said Sam Ombeki, CARE Kenya Senior Program Officer.

Thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, those identified each received Kes. 5,100 ($43.78) to their mobile money accounts. CARE International in Kenya negotiated with Safaricom Limited, the mobile service provider, subsidized transaction fees for beneficiaries. To ensure that beneficiaries receive maximum funds, CARE Kenya has also covered the withdrawal fee ($1) for beneficiary transaction fees. Prior to the remittances, CARE undertook a pre-assessment survey, and part of the survey aimed to assess access to Mpesa outlets, particularly in remote areas. The selected sites where the exercise was conducted were inaccessible to CARE due to security concerns, particularly those near the Kenya-Somalia border.

Mobile cash transfers through money platforms are a simple and sustainable method to support individuals during a humanitarian crisis such as the one in northern Kenya. Maureen Miruka, CARE Kenya Country Director, said, “Mobile cash transfers are not only a sustainable way to reach affected people in remote areas, but are also a dignified approach to supporting vulnerable people. Indeed, beneficiaries can use the funds according to their priority needs. The pre-assessment survey indicated that beneficiaries’ priority expenditures were food, water, school fees, veterinary services, livestock, personal hygiene supplies and loan repayment.

Salatho Hussein, a mother of six, has experienced the devastating effects of the drought firsthand. After losing her livestock as well as resources to buy food, the money helped meet some of her household needs. “My children had no school fees and we had little food. With this money, I was able to pay off part of the debt we had accumulated as well as my children’s school fees. The withdrawal process was quite easy and quick as the Mpesa agent is close to my house,” Salatho said.

By using the infrastructure that already exists, the cost of operations has been reduced as fewer resources are needed and more funds have been allocated to the people involved. Another benefit of using mobile money is that it also reduces the carbon footprint of the program. The method is also foolproof because the money is sent directly to the registered recipient and not through a third party who could be subject to abuse or fraud.

Finding solutions, especially in the ever-growing space of technology, is key to ensuring vulnerable communities are reached in their spaces. This makes them worthy because they can continue their way of life despite the disruptions caused by circumstances beyond their control. Adopting existing technologies is key to innovating responses to a humanitarian crisis such as that in northern Kenya.

The program has reached over 10,700 women in Garissa and Mandera. By employing a transparent, inclusive and participatory registration process, the exercise ensured that there was consensus on who would be prioritized in the process.

With this intervention, much remains to be done as the drought worsens in Garissa and Mandera. Adopting fintech to reach those affected offers a viable and secure alternative to ensure that the most vulnerable are reached.

For more information:
Rachel Kent
[email protected]

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