Digitalization potentials and limitations of cash-based assistance

Juntunen, Enni Alina; Kalla, Christian; Widera, Adam; Hellingrath, Bernd


Cash-based assistance (CBA) has emerged as a promising transfer modality over in-kind assistance in humanitarian aid. However, it is still associated with several disadvantages, such as higher risk of theft, misuse of financial resources, and/or corruption. Novel information and communication technologies are potential solutions for coping with these CBA-related disadvantages. However, the transition from in-kind or traditional CBA to digital CBA depends on many factors, such as the state of digitalization of the responding humanitarian organization, the financial market in the countries of deployment, or the accessibility to digital CBAs by the beneficiaries. The respective scientific and practitioner communities provide several experiences from past deployments. However, existing experiences provide only organization- or operation-dependent and thus anecdotal evidence. This paper follows a systematic literature review to construct a structured overview of the identified potentials and limitations of digital CBA projects. To evaluate the literature review results, we conducted two case-based evaluations to examine the validity and transferability of the identified potentials and limitations. The resulting structured overview promises to assist humanitarian organizations in pre-assessing appropriate CBA modalities for their programs. Furthermore, our findings suggest a high degree of context dependency on digital CBA and the lack of universally applicable potentials and limitations. As a theoretical contribution, the structured overview of the identified potentials and limitations can be used for the design of a research agenda towards the development of suitability assessment frameworks.

Humanitarian assistance; Cash-based assistance; Digital cash-based assistance; Refugee camps

Publication type
Research article (journal)

Peer reviewed

Publication status


International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction