Looking to Cellphones to Deliver Aid in Africa

After a crisis, aid workers have found that giving a limited amount of money to the poorest people can help them buy food and weather the storm. But especially in remote or unstable places, doling out cash can be a logistical challenge.

Enter the mobile phone.

Workers in Niger are testing a system that allows people to store credits on cellphones and transfer the money to vendors to buy things like millet and rice. It might sound more complicated or expensive than physically giving out money, but it doesn’t require things like armed guards and trucks regularly traveling hundreds of miles with bundles of cash.

Aid groups can buy cheap phones or have them donated, and most people in Africa now live in an area where they can get mobile phone coverage. And households without electricity can have phones charged by generators or — as in the Niger test — they can share solar chargers.

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