Cash-based approaches in humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review

This study reviews evidence on the effects of cash-based approaches on individual and household outcomes in humanitarian emergencies


Despite the widespread use and increasing number of evaluations of cash-based humanitarian assistance, there is a paucity of rigorous evidence about how best to address the needs of crisis-affected populations. This is not surprising, as studies meeting the methodological criteria for inclusion in most systematic reviews are relatively rare in emergency settings.

The primary objective of this review was to assess and synthesize existing evidence on the effects of cash-based approaches on individual and household outcomes in humanitarian emergencies. The secondary objective was to assess the efficiency of different cash-based approaches and identify factors that hinder and facilitate programme implementation.

We followed standard methodological procedures for review of experimental and quasi- experimental studies to assess the effects of unconditional cash transfer, conditional cash transfer and voucher programmes for crisis-affected populations. We also adapted these procedures to review economic studies assessing the efficiency of cash-based approaches and observational, qualitative and mixed method studies assessing the factors that facilitate or hinder the implementation of cash-based approaches in different settings. We conducted comprehensive searches of published and unpublished literature in November 2014. Two independent research assistants screened all identified studies to determine eligibility for inclusion in the review. We then extracted data from all included studies using a standardized coding tool and critically appraised the studies using existing tools appropriate for the different study designs.

Findings suggest that both cash-based approaches and in-kind food assistance can be effective means of increasing household food security among conflict-affected populations and maintaining household food security among food-insecure and drought-affected populations; each assistance modality has different advantages and disadvantages that should be considered in the design of future interventions. However, no definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of cash transfer or voucher programmes could be drawn that are universally applicable for humanitarian policy. Further development of the evidence base, with more rigorous evaluations comparing the effectiveness of different cash-based approaches (or combinations of approaches) and transfer modalities, as well as standardized approaches to documenting and comparing both costs and benefits of cash- transfer and voucher programmes, is needed to further strengthen the evidence base in this area.


Doocy, S.; Tappis, H. Cash-based approaches in humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review. International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), London, UK (2016) 223 pp. [3ie Systematic Review 28]

Published 1 January 2016