Cash assistance program provides critical resources to post-Ebola Liberia

Liberia, April 19, 2016

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  • Georgette Coleman saw the collapse of her small business after the Ebola virus devastated Liberia. Mercy Corps' cash assistance program has helped thousands of Liberians sustain businesses and retain access to food in Ebola’s wake. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Satta Sumo is one of the hundreds of thousands of people across Liberia still struggling to recover after she lost both her husband and her economic livelihood to the Ebola crisis. But as a beneficiary of Mercy Corps Economic Recovery from Ebola for Liberia (EREL) funded by USAID/Food for Peace, this 35-year-old mother of two has been able to make critical gains in re-establishing her farm, rebuilding her life and contributing to the overall recovery of Liberia’s economy.

Working with the EREL program after her husband’s death in November of 2014, Sumo received cash assistance in the form of agricultural input vouchers valued at $40. She was able to use this resource at her discretion to purchase seed rice and farming equipment as well as pay to clear the field where she planted her rice. As a result, Sumo grew enough rice for a year’s harvest – enough to sustain her and her family. “The rice on the farm can even support me and my children to meet our health and education needs,” Sumo said recently as she stood proudly next to her two acres.

“The EREL program has provided two essential forms of cash assistance to the people of Liberia during this critical time of rebuilding and recovery,” said Martin Varnie, Mercy Corps EREL Program Manager in Liberia. “The program has helped farmers to sustain production while their crops and livelihood are vulnerable, and ensured the most affected populations have access to food.”

As of April 2016, Mercy Corps and its partners have used the EREL program to help a total of 6,400 households with agricultural input vouchers like the one Sumo received. More than 18,000 households have received cash transfers. The overall aim behind the program is to provide emergency aid to 30,000 households that have been economically affected by Ebola.

Communities and families in Montserrado, Margibi and Lofa – where many households were crippled by the loss of one or more sources of income during the Ebola epidemic – have been the recipients of these direct cash transfers. The program prioritizes families and community members with the highest needs, including those with children under five and female-headed households; an estimated three-fourths of households participating in the program are headed by women. Under the program’s terms, beneficiaries receive vouchers for at least three months with a possible extension depending on their needs.

One such beneficiary is Ponewene Kollie, the mother of seven children, who lost her husband to Ebola. Since her husband passed away, she provides for her children with money she makes from a cassava plot, which she supplements with income from small commerce activities. Ponewene said she planned to use the money she received to pay for food for her children. “It will be helpful to have this money,” she said, “We are grateful to the American people for their assistance.”

Mercy Corps' initial analyses of this program indicate it has had a substantial impact. Participants report that since receiving the cash, they have been able to buy significantly more food, a critical resource in a country where almost one child out of three is malnourished.

Mercy Corps is also working closely with the international community, including other international non-government agencies, the UN, and the Liberian government, in order to ensure efforts are not duplicated through similar programs.