Cash-like vouchers improve psychological well-being of vulnerable and displaced persons fleeing armed conflict

John Quattrochi, Ghislain Bisimwa, Peter van der Windt, and Maarten Voors

PNAS Nexus, Volume 1, Issue 3 (2022)


This paper assesses the effectiveness of the United Nations’ Rapid Response to Movements of Population (RRMP) program, the largest humanitarian assistance program targeting vulnerable displaced, returnee and host households in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 2004 and 2018, the program provided humanitarian relief to over a million people each year, including vouchers for essential non-food items, such as pots, pans, cloth, and mattresses.

The analysis is based on a within-village randomized field experiment with 976 vulnerable households, across 25 villages, including internally displaced and host households. Assessments of household vulnerability were based on ownership and quality of water containers, pans, buckets, farm tools, mattresses, sheets, and women’s and children’s clothing, as well as the number of household members with physical disabilities and children raised by a single parent. Households were randomly assigned to either a treatment group, which received vouchers worth US$55 to US$90, or a control group, which received no vouchers. Vouchers could be used to obtain essential household items (EHI) at a one-off fair organized by the program. Outcomes were measured at 6 weeks and after one year.

Main findings:

  • The vouchers led to large improvements in psychological well-being. Vouchers led to a 0.32 standard deviation unit (SDU) improvement in psychological wellbeing at 6 weeks, and a 0.18 SDU improvement at 1 year.
  • There was no improvement in child health. This suggests that larger or different transfers may be needed to improve child health.
  • There is no evidence that the program undermined social cohesion within the village. This suggests that targeting some households and not others within the same community did not undermine local community relations.
  • The program increased asset ownership and dietary diversity, suggesting that household resilience may be a mechanism via which economic assistance improves psychological well-being.
  • Economic assistance also increased debt and the consumption of alcohol or tobacco.

The authors conclude that economic transfers can reduce the psychological harm caused by conflict and forced displacement, and these can be delivered at a low cost (US$21 per beneficiary or about US$137 per household).



Cash Transfers | Health