In Nigeria, Mobile Money Assists Victims of Boko Haram Violence

Attacks by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria have caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. In response, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an innovative emergency cash transfer operation in the region to ensure people can cover their most pressing needs.

By Tomson Phiri, a Communications Officer for WFP’s Supply Chain Division.

This text message brings a smile to Falamata Uzeugo who can use the ‘mobile money’ to buy food for her family.

Falamata Uzeugo looks down at her mobile phone and smiles as she reads the text message — “You have received N17,000 from the World Food Programme” — this is great news. Falamata can withdraw the 17,000 Nigerian Naira each month at her nearest Airtel vendor, a global mobile operator, to buy food for her family at one of many local shops in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in northeast Nigeria.

Through this cash-based assistance operation, WFP is supporting more than 100,000 people, who have fled Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria. In record-breaking time, WFP deployed food security analysts, supply chain experts, and IT staff, who rapidly assessed the local shops and markets to review critical factors such as the availability, price, quality and nutritional requirements of the food for sale. With this information, staff concluded that providing cash was feasible, both logistically and financially. In just nine days, WFP’s cash assistance was off the ground and fully operational — the fastest that WFP has ever deployed mobile money.

“While we were able to quickly launch WFP’s cash operation in urban areas, at the same time, we faced steep challenges — the biggest being security and access,” says Barbara Van Logchem, WFP Supply Chain Officer on assignment in Nigeria. “We had to think about security with every move we made. Together with partners, we adjusted our processes to work in a highly insecure environment.”

A woman registers her mobile phone SIM card at an Airtel stall set up to assist displaced people.

To deliver cash assistance, WFP works closely with the Government of Nigeria, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Airtel. Through an agreement with Airtel, WFP was able to quickly establish its cash assistance operation while also ensuring that people in need had access to mobile phones and SIM cards to receive the cash payments. Families can then withdraw their cash support at any local Airtel shop. They can also buy food at any participating retailer, with a cash back option if they wish.

“Depending on the market prices of food in the area and considering nutritional requirements, we calculate the amount of cash that WFP provides to each family receiving our assistance,” explains Margot Van der Velden, WFP’s Deputy Regional Director and Emergency Coordinator in West Africa. “While we always make sure the cash will cover their dietary and nutritional needs, the people we support are also empowered with the choice to buy what they need and the food they like to eat.”

Technology plays a crucial role in enabling WFP’s cash-based operations. Through an online platform called SCOPE, WFP manages key information on each person receiving WFP assistance such as whether it is cash, remittances or e-vouchers.

WFP staff closely monitor the levels of malnutrition, local market prices and the available food supply in order to ensure people are able to continue buying goods at a fair price. By the end of the year, WFP will scale up its operation to substantially increase the number of people receiving assistance, depending on available funding.

For Falamata, it is not certain when she will be able to go back to her home and live a more peaceful life, but what is important for her now is to receive the cash she needs to help her family.