How Cash-Based Transfers help one family overcome multiple shocks
03 March 2022
Our house was flooded,” remembers E Sophal, indicating how the waters came up to his knee.
Sophal and his wife, Sophorn, run a small noodle-making business from their home, which sits next to the river and bore the brunt of the floods. “We couldn’t make noodles or travel anywhere to earn an income. It worried us so much, we didn’t know what to do to feed our young children, or if they were sick.”
Sophal, a father of four living in Pursat province, is remembering his experience during the flash floods that affected nearly 800,000 Cambodians in October 2020. Like the ongoing pandemic, these floods disproportionately affected poorer people, and for families like Sophal’s, the two shocks compounded the challenge to his family’s livelihood and health.
Sophal’s household income was hit particularly hard. The family usually earn most of their income by selling noodles to weddings and other major festivities in the neighbourhood, which left them acutely vulnerable. “Due to COVID-19, big events such as weddings and big ceremonies were not allowed to be celebrated. The number of orders dropped rapidly," Sophal recalls, estimating that they lost two-thirds of their income. When the heavy rains came, the river water level reached up to his knee inside the house for one whole month and they couldn't make noodles any longer or earn any income at all.
The couple had to shut down their business and feeding the four children became a daily struggle. Sophal turned to fishing, but barely caught enough to keep the family fed. The floods in the house made the couple constantly fearful that one of the children might catch malaria, or other water-borne diseases, knowing they would then struggle to pay for them to travel for medical treatment.
It was for vulnerable families like Sophal’s that the Royal Government of Cambodia provided support to vulnerable people affected by the pandemic through its COVID-19 cash transfer from early 2020. After the floods, the World Food Programme (WFP) also started providing supplementary cash transfers to 40,000 families affected by both the pandemic and floods, aware that they had been plunged into economic and food insecurity. This programme was supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), which committed US$ 6 million. The intention was to compensate for losses, help families meet their minimum nutrition needs and mitigate the impact of further shocks – which are unfortunately likely for the millions living in Cambodia's flood-prone zones.
“I first heard about the cash-based transfer programme through our village chief. I felt happy because it came when I needed it most," remembers Sophal. “Without this cash, I would have had to go into debt to my relatives and neighbours to feed our family, we would have had no choice.”
Instead, the couple used the money not only to buy food, but also to re-establish the family business, and make it more resilient for the future. This included fixing their motorbike, which had fallen into disrepair. Without the motorbike, re-establishing the business was impossible, but once it was repaired, they were able to sell noodles and feed the family more adequately.
Sophal and Sophorn are now more hopeful about the future than in a long time. Their business is operational again, and Cambodia's progress in vaccinating its population means that, they hope, weddings and other events will be possible, giving the family an income opportunity again. “In the future, we hope for nothing more than a proper home to raise our children.”