In 2020, Bangladesh experienced the second highest recorded floods since 1989. More than one million households were inundated, and 5.5 million people were directly affected by flooding at the beginning of August 2020. Flood waters halted agricultural production, disrupted food markets, schools, and health services, and damaged infrastructure.
By carrying out the fastest cash allocation in their history, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) enabled the World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver cash to about 23,000 households a week before the local flood peak. This anticipatory action was part of a vital series of anticipatory action pilots supported by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). With support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), the government and local NGOs, the United Nations was able to provide support to more than 220,000 people a few days prior to and during peak flooding.
Unlike previous years when response preparation started after devastating flooding materialised, WFP provided a small cash transfer of $53 via mobile money to over 23,000 households in advance of peak flooding, based on flood predictions and an action plan that had been approved at the start of the monsoon season. The response in 2020 was faster, and cheaper than during the last major floods in 2017 and 2019, when support arrived about 100 days after peak flooding.
Evidence on the impact of a one-off cash transfer in a disaster are limited, despite the widespread use of such transfers in crises, reflecting more broadly a dearth of evaluations in the humanitarian sector. To assess impact, we exploit administrative constraints experienced during the programme roll-out caused by the quick onset of the flood and restrictions on movement as a result of Covid-19, to compare households who received a cash transfer, with otherwise comparable households which did not receive the cash transfer.
10 to 12 weeks after the cash transfer, researchers randomly sampled and surveyed a large number of households over the phone, with almost 9,000 households forming the sample of interest. The survey data was complemented by satellite imagery to measure the flood intensity and timing at mauza level, the smallest administrative unit in Bangladesh.