World Food Programme cash grants assist families hosting refugees in Moldova

World Food Programme payments take the pressure off 30,000 households – and there are plans to expand

, Edward Johnson

People wait for cash assistance in Chisinau
Vera, a Moldovan, waits in line at the newly set-up WFP base in Chisinau, with the 7-year-old daughter of her Ukrainian guests. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

Moldova has flung open its arms to its Ukrainian neighbours – over the past two weeks I’ve seen and documented the World Food Programme (WFP) kick off its cash assistance, with plans to reach 30,000 Moldovan families.

They are among 100,000 people staying as guests in people’s homes in the country. Through a network of local non-governmental organizations, more families will be invited to register for cash assistance in coming weeks. Local municipalities play a crucial role in registering and verifying lists of host families. The key condition is that they must host at least two refugees from Ukraine for at least one week.

At the beginning of March, the Government of Moldova invited WFP to help assist host families with cash support and hot meals for those in emergency accommodation. With no operational presence in Moldova, WFP handpicked around 20 staff and deployed them to Chisinau. They travelled by road from Romania as Moldovan airspace was closed.

The last leg of my journey from London was a three-hour taxi ride – the driver told me his parents were hosting three Ukrainians and that they wee more than happy to do so.

WFP’s new staff began establishing an office from scratch, starting in a conference room in a hotel and moving on to a rented basement where Moldovan startups occupy rooms with their dogs, e-scooters and bean bags. I think I’ve visited nine WFP country offices worldwide, and this is definitely the slickest. It might also be the loudest, with conversations in English, Spanish, Arabic, Romanian, Russian and Turkish competing for dominance.

The first Moldovan families registered with WFP will be able to withdraw 3,500 Moldovan Lei – around US$190 – from Western Union branches from April. WFP provides the one-time payment so that families can cover additional expenses when their households grow.

Woman and child in Moldova
Vera is among 100,000 Moldovan families hosting people from Ukraine. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

On the day I go to see registration in a mayoral office in a suburb of Chisnau, I meet Vera. She is with Eva, the 7-year-old daughter of the Ukrainian family she is hosting. They’re distant relatives, brought closer by the conflict. I’m not sure that Eva understood what was happening, but she watched on as Vera giggled and tried scanning her QR code to register for the cash.

WFP regularly gives cash to families in locations where financial systems are working and where there’s plenty of food in markets. People can spend it on food or other essentials. WFP knows that every family has many expenses, and when times are tough, it’s food that’s often sacrificed in favour of having enough cash to meet the other needs. For example, a family that needs to pay healthcare bills may reduce its food spend to divert funds. With money from WFP, that doesn’t need to happen.

Food rations
Food rations at makeshift accommodation in Chisnau. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

In community halls throughout Moldova, WFP also provides three meals each day to families from Ukraine. In one central facility in the capital, Chisinau, 400 families live, eat, sleep and educate their children under the same roof, until they can return home or find other options. Regular meals from WFP provide reliable sustenance and nutrition while they live there.

Moldova was struggling even before the conflict in Ukraine began. The country heavily relies on remittances – money sent home from workers abroad – and is vulnerable to climatic and economic shocks. In 2020, on top of COVID-19, it was hit by drought, causing a drop in agricultural production of almost 30 percent along with heavy job losses.

The poverty rate in 2021 was almost 27 percent. With that heady combination of negative factors, it is remarkable that the country has shown such generosity and warmth in welcoming its neighbours from Ukraine.

The conflict is a month old, but the worldwide repercussions are also being felt in countries much further afield than Moldova. Rising food and fuel prices could spell disaster for millions, as WFP had already warned that 2022 would be a year of catastrophic hunger, with 44 million people in 38 countries teetering on the edge of famine.

I have visited and worked in enough crisis and conflict settings to know that migrations peak and drop, but they will continue as long as there is instability in Ukraine. As additional pressure is placed on already high food prices, the full impact of the conflict is undoubtedly still to come.

WFP requires $590 million to assist 3.1 million crisis-affected people and displaced people on the move inside Ukraine with in-kind and cash distributions, as well as refugees and asylum seekers from Ukraine in neighbouring countries for the next three months.

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