The largest humanitarian crash transfer in Fiji’s history has been labelled a huge success, with the $20 million injection into the poorest 20% of the country allowing entire communities to maintain their dignity through the devastating impacts of COVID-19.
Of the families who received funds through the program, 95% used the money on food, bills and their children’s education.
Save the Children Australia Acting CEO Mat Tinkler — whose organisation orchestrated the “life-saving” digital cash program — elaborated that 27% of those surveyed spent money on water, 16% on medical expenses and a smaller portion on cleaning products.
"Cash is the most effective way to assist people in disasters, allowing them to make the best decisions for their own circumstances,” Tinkler said in a media release. “We know that children are the hardest hit in any humanitarian crisis, and Fiji continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 today. This funding allowed parents to continue to care for their children despite facing hardship.”
Between December 2020 and June 2021, AU$4.2 million was distributed among 16,000 families.
A further $15.3 million was transferred during the project's second phase, benefiting a total of 39,000 households.
The use of digital cash is a new development for Save the Children, which has long used money and vouchers to support those impacted by a variety of disasters worldwide. The organisation worked closely with Vodafone Fiji to make the payments possible.
Cash. Rules. Everything. Around. Me. It's also the best-evidenced anti-poverty measure we have. This digital cash rollout isn't just the largest humanitarian cash transfer in Fiji’s history (!), it's an investment in ongoing, shock-responsive safety nets and climate resilience. https://t.co/5ZY5Bch4WJ— Erin Ryan (@erinryanau) January 13, 2021
Maria, a 49-year-old single mother to six children, was just one of the people supported through the program — which, through the assistance of local organisations like the Fiji Council of Social Services — worked to identify and prioritise vulnerable groups like the elderly, women, children and those living with a disability.
Maria lost her job in the janitorial services industry when pandemic-induced lockdowns were announced.
"Before I get the money, I never go to work, and my children used to ask me — ‘my school stuff, my school stuff?’ And I used to tell them, pray to God,” she said, before explaining how the funds impacted her and her children’s lives. “I was happy, and I tell my kids — this is the answer, this is the answer for us. I buy the food and my two kids' school things — the bag, the shoes and all the school stuff.”
As of Feb. 24, almost 65,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Fiji.
With a population of under 1 million, the Pacific nation has recorded 826 deaths and has a fully vaccinated rate of 69%.
According to nonprofit public policy organisation The Brookings Institution, 17% of the world’s population received at least one COVID-related cash payment between 2020 and 2021 in an effort by governments everywhere to avert total economic collapse and ward off catastrophic poverty levels.
An estimated 124 million people globally have been pushed into extreme poverty by the pandemic.