Minimum Expenditure Basket versus Rapidly Emerging Humanitarian Needs

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Sept. 7, 2021, 4:43 p.m.

Simon Levine

MEBs do get so over-complicated, don't they? I've never quite understood why. It should be quite simple.

1. Decide what should be in the basket - i.e. what people need in order to live at a minimum acceptable standard.
2. Cost each of the items
3. Add them up.
4. That's the MEB, isn't it?

(OK, there are small complications like how to address household size - do you have a MEB per capita, or different MEBs? Costs vary from place to place - do we want one standardised MEB or several? But those are details.)

Setting the value of a transfer involves other considerations, e.g. the benefits of coordination/harmonisation with what others are doing. The main humanitarian consideration is the assessment of how much of the MEB that people can find for themselves. Since the MEB is by definition a minimum, the humanitarian approach must be to give the balance in full (in-kind or cash). If you are OK with giving less than what is in the MEB, then the MEB wasn't an MEB, because it wasn't the minimum.

If the resources aren't there to cover the MEB for everyone in need, then that's a different situation - we sometimes have to accept that some people will live at unacceptable standards because we can't do anything about it. What counts as acceptable, i.e. what should be in the basket, is a bit subjective, and it is probably because some people are desperate to hide that fact that they spend so long inventing opaque quasi-scientific processes for pulling a MEB number out of thin air. (Should MEB include school fees/costs? To what standard - primary and secondary? What quality of diet is a minimum? Etc.) But these are invented technical difficulties, we should have no problem with the fact that a minimum basket is a judgement call based no values about what counts as a minimum. So, from a technical perspective, sorting out an MEB should take very little time. (Yes, I know that in many places setting MEBs has ended up in months of meetings and expensive consultancies, but then there is a lot about the world that I still struggle to understand.)

Now, Aftab and George raise two quite different situations when they are talking about the need to increase a transfer value. George is talking about what to do when the cost of the items in the basket goes up, i.e. MEB went up. In CAR, I understand Aftab to be saying that the transfer (also) went up because needs were getting greater ('considering the evolving humanitarian situation', as well as inflation), i.e. it was believed that people were able to find less of the items in the basket for themselves OR that more items needed to be added in to the basket. (That could happen eg if people have to start paying for water when water sources run dry/water points become inaccessible because of conflict, etc.). If people can find less for themselves, then you could argue that the MEB hasn't gone up, it's just that the transfer has to cover a greater % of the MEB, but hey, let's leave the semantic arguments to those endless bureaucratic processes of establishing MEBs. There are in any case 3 reasons to seek to increase a transfer value in a situation of 'rapidly emerging humanitarian needs': the cost of same items has gone up; people can find fewer of those items for themselves; the basket has to get bigger (new needs).

As long as the actual items in a MEB are made explicit and are transparently costed, it's technically quite easy to change the value of the MEB regularly - you can agree to add/delete items or to change prices. You could do it daily, if you'd nothing more interesting to do, or automate it if there was regular price monitoring on an interoperable database. Whether or not you choose to change a transfer value is another matter. That decision might also depend on resources available, feasibility, cost, the value of harmonisation/coordination - all kinds of operational considerations.

Setting transfer values is often a political minefield. But surely, there is nothing technically complicated in this? And so I don't think that we can look for a technical answer to the question 'when should we increase the value of our emergency cash transfer?'

Or am I missing something important?

Best regards to all,

Simon

Sept. 7, 2021, 1:51 p.m.

kris

Hi George,

I have similar experience from Ukraine to the cases mentioned by Syed
Mohammad, we have also revised MEB based on inflation, as far as I remember
it was done quarterly by CWG. However, we did not face any sudden
deterioration of humanitarian situation, rather quite stable protracted
crisis.

Best,
Kris

pon., 6 wrz 2021, 18:32 użytkownik George Bete <[Hidden email]>
napisał:

> Colleagues-
>
>
> I am providing Technical support to a Country in the Middle East to
> refine a Multipurpose Cash Assistance project meant to respond to diverse
> needs identified during a rapid assessment. Issue is, the current Minimum
> Expenditure Basket (MEB) is no longer enough to cover the needs identified.
> This is because the humanitarian crises deteriorated abruptly from the last
> MEB revision. The Cash and Voucher working Group is aware of this and is
> making plans to revise the MEB- it might take a while before the value is
> revised. Any tips on how we can justify calculation of the Transfer value
> for a program that needs to respond with support cash based support now ?
>
>
>
> Kind regards
>
>
>
> *George Bete | *Cash Relief, Technical Advisor
>
> (*East Africa, Yemen, Zimbabwe- Backstopping Asia*)
>
>
> International Rescue Committee
>
> 34 Greendale Avenue, Greendale, Harare, Zimbabwe
>
> Skype betegeorge
>
>
>
> *Rescue.org*
> [image: IRC%20eSignature%20Graphic]
>
>
><[Hidden email]>

Sept. 7, 2021, 1:51 p.m.

JULIE LAWSON-MCDOWALL

Dear all,

Thank you for all the interesting additions to this useful discussion. I wanted to take this opportunity to let people know that CaLP is currently completing a major update of the 2020 CaLP MEB Decision Making Tools <https: minimum-expenditure-basket-meb-decision-making-tools-2="" publication="" www.calpnetwork.org=""> which will address many of these issues in much more detail than previously. We hope to have the new version ready for dissemination later this year.

Best regards,

Julie

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Sept. 7, 2021, 8:41 a.m.

SYED MOHAMMED AFTAB ALAM

Dear George
Thanks for your pragmatic point of evolving humanitarian situation versus existing MEB.
I am familiar of such type of situation in several contexts. Let me share what we did as Plan International in two situations:

1. In 2015 Nepal Earthquake Response:

The existing MEB cash transfer value was around NPR 7,500 - 8000 per month based on the Government of Nepal's daily minimum wage and food basket value of 300-400 per day in different districts of Nepal. While the feasibility study conducted by Plan International indicated revised MEBs NPR 10,000 /month @ 500 NPR per day for a period of 20 days of work or Multi-purpose cash. We provided NPR 10,000 considering the inflation and rapid evolving humanitarian situation which demanded a rapid cash injection into the community to stimulate the market. This was feasible.

For cash for work, we also advanced NPR 5,000 for 10 days of work as Unconditional Cash and the beneficiaries obliged to work following the receipt of cash. This was a pilot and it was quite successful.

Impact- Cash was injected on priority and thus beneficiaries met their basic needs at the market place.

2. Similarly in 2017 in Central African Republic, we enhanced the MEB by 20% of the existing transfer value considering the evolving humanitarian situation and inflation and it was well appreciated by the Cash working group and food security cluster.

I hope I answered your query.

Thanks and Warm Regards
Aftab

Please note: I work from 09.00 IST to 17.00 IST (03.30 GMT to 11.30 GMT). I am off from 11.30 GMT onwards for personal commitments (with kids).

Syed Mohammed Aftab Alam
Cash and Vouchers Specialist (Global Lead)

Plan International Global Hub
Disaster Risk Management Department
Dukes Court, Block A
Duke Street, Woking, Surrey,
GU21 5BH, United Kingdom
Based out of New Delhi, India

Skype: smaftabalam
Email and Teams id: [Hidden email] <mailto:[Hidden email]>
Website: Plan International website <http: emergencies="" food-and-nutrition="" plan-international.org="" what-we-do=""> (external)

Sept. 7, 2021, 6:42 a.m.

Chris Paci

Dear George,

Thanks very much for your email. I think the first step here, if you haven't done it already, would be to identify the most recent market price data available for as many components of the MEB as possible, either from external or internal sources. You'd also need to identify the most recent expenditure figures available for non-market components of the MEB (e.g. education expenditures, healthcare expenditures, etc.), as well as the most recent vulnerable HH income and own-production figures to help you calculate the gap between income and expenditures.

If all this data was collected recently enough to capture the effects of the humanitarian deterioration, then that's great: you can simply put this new data into the old structure of the MEB to come up with a new ad hoc MEB cost and CTV for your programming. If you do this, certainly discuss your approach first with the CVWG and other cash actors so you can all agree and harmonize.

If the data is a bit too old, though, then there are no perfect options. Under the circumstances, I would try to collaborate with other cash actors in the same situation to collect a small amount of ad hoc post-shock data on prices and availability-if not for every item in the MEB, then at least for a small, representative subset of MEB commodities (staple foods, 1-2 hygiene items, fuel, etc.). If the cost of this smaller subset is 30% higher than it was in your pre-shock data, let's say, then you can make a very rough assumption that the full MEB will also be 30% more expensive than before. You can triangulate this with data on currency exchange rates or inflation as well; if the local currency also seems to have lost 30% of its value on the unofficial market, then it's fair to assume that many item prices will display a similar trend. Again, certainly not a perfect approach, but it could be good enough to help you rapidly adapt your programming where there's no time to collect more robust data.

Best regards,
Chris Paci

Chris Paci | Global Cash and Markets Assessment Specialist

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Sept. 7, 2021, 6:42 a.m.

Rhodes Ndlovu

If WFP is doing price monitoring (weekly/monthly) could be useful in
adjusting the transfer value. Also, if the humanitarian crisis has resulted
in run-away inflation, you may need to strike a balance on modalities to
ensure beneficiaries continue to derive the intended utilities out of the
assistance. Rapid assessments with vendors (if possible), KII with key
stakeholders may also feed into the process.

Sept. 6, 2021, 4:29 p.m.

George Bete

Colleagues-

I am providing Technical support to a Country in the Middle East to refine a Multipurpose Cash Assistance project meant to respond to diverse needs identified during a rapid assessment. Issue is, the current Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) is no longer enough to cover the needs identified. This is because the humanitarian crises deteriorated abruptly from the last MEB revision. The Cash and Voucher working Group is aware of this and is making plans to revise the MEB- it might take a while before the value is revised. Any tips on how we can justify calculation of the Transfer value for a program that needs to respond with support cash based support now ?

Kind regards

George Bete | Cash Relief, Technical Advisor
(East Africa, Yemen, Zimbabwe- Backstopping Asia)

International Rescue Committee
34 Greendale Avenue, Greendale, Harare, Zimbabwe
Skype betegeorge

Rescue.org
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