In the 12 months since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, more than 14 million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes in what the United Nations has described as “the fastest, largest displacement in decades.”
Allied governments and humanitarian organizations have supplied tens of billions of dollars in aid to support refugees. But, as in past crises, figuring out the right way to get aid to people has been a huge challenge. For people who have been displaced, the best support is cash. Unlike in-kind assistance like food or clothing, cash can be used for anything, and it’s flexible for when circumstances change. “We always ask ourselves: Why not cash?” says Carmen Hett, treasurer for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency.
The humanitarian sector has historically been reluctant to distribute cash to refugees over fears—since debunked by multiple studies—that the money would be squandered on so-called temptation goods, like alcohol or tobacco. But cash has played a bigger role than ever in the Ukraine crisis. Nearly half of all of the aid delivered by the Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of UK-based charities, in the first six months of the war was in cash.