Johanna Estermann is awarded the Swiss Humanitarian Award

16.10.2014

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This academic year, the CERAH is delighted to announce that our Master student Johanna Estermann was granted the Swiss Humanitarian Award for her distinctive dissertation “Towards a convergence of humanitarian and development assistance through cash transfers to host communities. A case study on Wadi Khaled and Akroum - Akkar district, Lebanon". Congratulations to the happy winner and warm thanks to CERAH's long lasting partner, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, founder of this award. Find out more in an interview with Johanna Estermann...

Why did you choose this subject for your dissertation (CERAH)?

The purpose of my paper was to explore the potential of linking relief and development in implementing activities of both sectors in parallel. My experience in humanitarian emergencies show that the dimension and variety of needs within a crisis-affected population are very diverse. Some people need a roof over their head, to drink and eat, others need support to make ends meet. Thus humanitarian and development assistance is sometimes needed at the same time. This illustrates also the case study in my paper, where not only the directly affected by a crisis but also the in-directly affected people have to be taken into consideration when planning aid assistance. The cash approach can be a means to truly link humanitarian and development assistance. 

Any particular reason for the choice of your case study: Wadi Khaled and Akroum - Akkar district, Lebanon ?

As a member of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, I had the opportunity to set up a Cash for Hosting project of the Swiss agency for cooperation and development, SDC in northern Lebanon. In 2012, approximately one year after the onset of the crisis in Syria (these days it’s a civil war), the Akkar district, and especially the areas in the east bordering to Syria, Wadi Khaled and Akroum, were the first affected by the displacement of Syrians as the city of Homs, approximately 30 km from the border, was the centre of the uprising. Beside the challenge for the accommodation of displaced people, the conflict in the neighbouring country had severely affected the local economy. For Akkar, and especially the Wadi Khaled and Akroum areas, this was a triggering factor to the already existing poverty getting worse. Lebanese host communities and households found themselves at their limits, charged with the responsibility to put up refugees from Syria. The SDC Cash for Hosting project aim was to provide protective shelter for people fleeing from Syria and to support those who provided this shelter e.g.  Lebanese families.   

Can you give an example of the positive impact of cash transfer programming?

Cash transfer programming is not to be seen as programmatic approach but as a modality of aid. This modality has the advantage that it can be implemented in a short time, that it can meet the diverse needs within an affected population with flexibility and what in my opinion is very important, it preserves people’s dignity. The cash approach gives people self-determination in spending the money on products or services they are most in need. However the application of a cash project requests specific conditions just to mention the first and foremost: there has to be an existing market. Cash transfer programming can thus revive the local economy. For the SDC project in northern Lebanon. I can say, that the financial support of Lebanese hosting  Syrian refugees contributed to the provision of longer term shelter for refugees,  it also contributed directly to an overall improvement of host families´ well-being, substantially increased host households economy and positively affected local markets.

What are the challenges related to these types of projects?

Money is attractive to everybody, so the selection of beneficiaries and the verification process have to be implemented in full transparency and with the involvement of all stakeholders within an affected population. The case study in my paper illustrates that when displacement takes place, the host community plays an essential role. Often this community is overseen and external assistance is exclusively channelled to displaced. The residents, often also poor themselves, are not being taken into consideration. This can lead to social tensions.

What are some of your recommendations for further development or improvement?

A recurrent analysis of the context is of most importance and the flexibility to react to a changing situation.  If there are other humanitarian or development actors on the ground, it is essential to coordinate.  

How do you feel with the news? What does this award mean to you?

I never expected this high regard and I'm very grateful and pleased.  It’s very encouraging and motivating to continue my engagement in the scope of humanitarian aid – especially also in promoting the cash approach, which is a type of aid provision that can link the humanitarian and development sector.

What's next....? Current projects?

The news of being the winner of the CERAH award reached me during my temporary engagement at SDC headquarters in Bern supporting the set up of projects in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. As of end of October 2014, I will be on a mission as an election observer in Tunesia.

 Read more about the dissertation