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Mercy Corps test on e-Voucher and food assistance to slum people

Electronic Voucher Assistance (ELEVATE) is being piloted in Nepal to test a technology for emergency response. The test was aim to see how effective the mobile messaging services works during emergencies and how can it be used to disburse assistance. Nepal is a country at high risk of a major earthquake and where the population of city dwellers has tripled in recent years. In this crowded city, the poorest residents end up in dense slums and squatter settlements on the banks major two rivers, Bagmati and Bisnumati of Kathmandu’s rivers. The pilot project targeted households in slum areas that rely on garbage sorting and work in crude slaughterhouses to make a living. The beneficiaries selected in these communities lack safety nets and would rely on outside support if a disaster struck Kathmandu.

Santu Maya Shahi, 72, is one of the pilot project beneficiaries. Santu Maya lives in a modest home with eight other family members. Of the seven adults, only two have regular work, putting strain on the limited household budget. She’s lived in the area for thirty years and moved here after a landslide destroyed her previous home. As a project participant, she received two SMS vouchers worth 3,000 Nepali rupees (about 30 USD). She could use these vouchers to purchase anything she needed at a participating local shop (except alcohol or tobacco).

Ms Santu Maya, as a primary beneficiary of ELEVATE receives eVoucher in here mobile phone with a description of assistance and its deadline. A training provided to her prior to the SMS made her clear on how to redeem the eVoucher and where to do it. Also, despite the fact that she was elderly, illiterate person, a provision was made to choose helper to complete the transaction and carry tuff to home. Santu Maya, with the assistance of her daughter-in-law (Ms Kabita) approached to the pre-identified vendor and chooses items to purchase. Santu Maya chose items for her, and vendor placed order for her purchase. For the conformation, helper Kabita entered the PIN number for Santu Maya. The transaction was completed with verification message for both vendor and Santu Maya.

Santu Maya

Santu Maya said, “My daughter-in-law understood the process, but I didn’t.” One of the challenges of using mobile technology in relief work is making sure people like Santu Maya are not excluded because of illiteracy or unfamiliarity with phones or SMS. Mercy Corps is testing several types of mobile vouchers to find options that are easier for people like Santu Maya to use. Because Santu Maya had a difficult time with SMS, her daughter-in-law, Kabita (pictured right), redeemed the voucher after Santu Maya selected the items such as lentils, oil, sugar and rice that she wanted to purchase. About her experience in the program, Santu Maya said, “This is the first time I’ve done anything like this before. You need to continue this program – there are many needy people...all my thanks for bringing this program here.”

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