Cameroon: cash comes to the rescue in coronavirus times

World Food Programme Cash transfers helping refugees impacted by coronavirus in CameroonWFP

Story by Marriane Enow Tabi and Saidou Abdoul Aziz

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives in the most unforeseen ways. The situation is particularly worrying for already vulnerable communities such as refugees. It’s the case with Haouna, a 49-year-old refugee from the Central African Republic who lives in Meiganga, a small-town in Cameroon’s Adamawa region. Haouna sells ice-cream for a living but that source of income came crashing to halt due to COVID-19.

“Everyone is afraid of buying anything that could give them a cold and make them a suspect of COVID-19,” says Haouna, a mother of four children. Things worsened when the Cameroon government restricted movement to curb the spread of the disease.

“My children and I were trapped at home scared of the fines to be paid if we were caught breaching the restrictions. I had no means of feeding my family,” adds Haouna who lost her husband six years ago.

Haouna had difficulties feeding her children during partial lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19.

With over 20,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 400 deaths within seven months, Cameroon, is ranked among the 10 countries with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa. As high as that is within the continent, it is comparatively low to the situation in many countries outside Africa.

Where the virus hits hard are the associated social and economic impact. Cameroon’s Ministry of Employment and Vocational Training announced in October that 14,000 people had lost their jobs in the country since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Alim, 29, depends on his job as a motorbike taxi rider to cover his family’s needs. Before the pandemic, he made about 10.000 FCFA (US$ 20) a day on average. But with the recommendations for physical and social distancing, people did not want to use motorbikes. That left him bereft of a means to care for his family.

I will invest

Alim and Haouna are now among 40,000 people who are provided monthly support through cash transfers and food distributions by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

As Haouna waits to receive her monthly transfer at a cash collection point in Meiganga, she is determined to invest part of it in a new trade. “I will invest again. I am certain I will be able to provide food and other necessities for my children,” she says with smile towards her children who had come with her.

Alim depends on WFP cash transfers to cushion the impact on the coronavirus on his income.

Alim is also sure that the cash assistance will help him support his family. “This money will help me organize their back-to-school process more easily”, he says

WFP and its cooperating partners are rolling out this project intended for vulnerable persons hard hit socially and economically by the coronavirus pandemic in Cameroon with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Cash changes lives

In Ngaoundere, the headquarters of the Adamawa region, cash transfers are also changing the lives of refugees. Estelle a 28-year-old refugee from the Central African Republic (CAR) fled her country, along with her 6-year-old daughter, due to an upsurge in violence. She was also heavily pregnant.

“When I arrived from the Central African Republic, life was difficult. I didn’t think I was going to make it especially as I was unsure about the next meal. Being a mother and pregnant made matters even worse,” says Estelle.

Estelle buys what she prefers to eat from the local vendors.

Earlier this year, she was identified and registered to receive assistance through WFP’s cash transfer programme. The support seems to have changed her life. “I am a different person today,” says Estelle with a grin on her face. “I now have money to buy food for my two children. I even save some so my kids can go to school and get an education. I am so grateful.”

Cash transfers allow the refugees to be fully in charge of key decisions that affect their lives and helps injects resources into the local economy. WFP is providing support cash transfers through contributions from the European Union, Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

UN entities involved in this initiative
WFP
World Food Programme