From September 2020 to March 2021, the Ecuadorian Red Cross provided financial support to vulnerable families whose livelihoods had been affected by COVID-19. The assistance was delivered on a one-time basis to cover basic needs and reactivate the sources of income of affected families. The activity was part of the rapid humanitarian response of SDC and the Embassy of Switzerland in Ecuador to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was implemented by the Ecuadorian Red Cross.
The COVID-19 pandemic health crisis and the economic consequences of lockdown have put the community under considerable strain since early April 2020. It has led to an increase in poverty and, in particular, food insecurity, basic water and sanitation (WASH) needs, and in the most vulnerable groups, an increase in shelter or housing needs. Many in the poor rural or peri-urban communities have no access to medical services and, as their jobs are in the informal sector, they immediately stopped producing income on the arrival of the pandemic and lockdown. After the first few months, Ecuador has had to make the measures more flexible in order to reactivate the economy, which was badly hit. It was therefore very important to redouble efforts to ensure that biosecurity activities were used to combat the pandemic.
The Cash Transfer Programme was launched in September 2020 as a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to alleviate the urgent and priority needs and meet the most vulnerable communities’ bare necessities. The programme was promoted by the humanitarian aid programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by the Ecuadorian Red Cross.
The programme and its support strategy
The Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) is a humanitarian aid tool that gives beneficiaries the freedom to decide how they want to use the support. This preserves the dignity of the most vulnerable sectors in the crisis and indirectly contributes to the recovery of local markets. This economic support is multipurpose, and is delivered only once, allowing the people assisted to meet their main basic needs such as food, medicines, supplies for new-borns, health consultations, rent payments, debts in shops, clothing, entrepreneurship, transport and communication with their families. The programme is supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in Ecuador and SDC, which opted for the system of cash withdrawals without a card from bank ATMs.
Six provinces were identified as programme beneficiaries: Cotopaxi, Esmeraldas, El Oro, Orellana, Tungurahua and Azuay. The community leaders’ provincial assemblies and grassroots social organisations were key allies in identifying the most vulnerable families.
The cash transfer programme benefitted 991 households. The amount of assistance was calculated to cover a basic family basket, according to humanitarian standards adapted to the national situation with the guidelines and experience of the Ecuadorian Red Cross. Beneficiaries met at least five of the selection criteria: they had not received any economic support from the ERC or other agencies; they were not beneficiaries of the government’s human development subsidy; they were Afro-Ecuadoreans or from a Montubio, peasant, indigenous or migrant community; they had primary education or were illiterate; families with three or more minor children; families who had lost their livelihood; families who had members who were in hospital due to catastrophic diseases or who had died due to COVID-19; were LGBTI people; women heads of household, pregnant women or women with children under five years old; or women victims of gender violence. With these criteria, the programme was able to reach the people in real need and in conditions of extreme vulnerability, identify particularly vulnerable people who had not been recognized before, and help them to keep going with dignity in this difficult situation.
Originally, support was delivered via an ATM. The project provided training and codes beforehand. Subsequently, support was delivered in person. Throughout the project, all beneficiaries received assistance and support from the Ecuadorian Red Cross team, who attended the telephone line set up especially for consultation. Beneficiaries were also sent training videos on how to use the ATMs via WhatsApp.
The target group included Gabriela Zamora and Gabriela Jaramillo, both from the Cuenca province of Ecuador. They were beneficiaries of the Cash Transfer Programme, which gave their fragile economies a respite, covering some of their most pressing needs. Meet these brave women and listen to their life stories in the following video testimonies.