Cash transfers and social vulnerability in Bosnia: a cross-sectional study of households and listed beneficiaries

Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2013 Jun;7(3):232-40. doi: 10.1001/dmp.2010.49.


Objective: Promoted as a means of fueling markets and encouraging economic growth or recovery, cash transfers have become a popular approach to international assistance. The literature recognizes potential problems such as insecurity, corruption, misuse, gender inequality, market inflation, and ineffective targeting. We carried out population and beneficiary surveys in 1997 to evaluate the targeting of cash transfers in Bosnia soon after the end of the conflict.

Methods: The population survey visited a random sample of clusters from population registers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Republika Srpska (RS). A directly administered questionnaire asked households whether they received any cash handouts from the Municipal Welfare Office in the last year, and, if so, for what purpose, the amount, and how they used the money. We calculated coverage and inclusion and exclusion errors of the program. The field team also identified cash transfers beneficiaries from official lists of the program and attempted to contact a random sample of them to ask about their experience.

Results: It was not possible to confirm receipts of cash in one third of the sample of 840 named beneficiaries; 19% could not be traced and 17% of those found denied receiving any cash. In the general population survey of 7182 households, coverage rates with cash assistance (11% in BiH, 3% in RS) were at least 44% lower than those declared by the distribution agencies, with considerable variation between cantons. Exclusion errors were high: 83% of those eligible according to the program's income criterion did not receive any cash. Although sufficient cash was dispensed to reach every United Nations High Commission for Refugees priority 1 (most needy) household, only 13% of these households (278/2125) admitted receiving any cash. Inclusion errors were also high: 60% of all of those who received cash were not in the priority 1 category and 46% were not eligible according to the program's income criterion. Extrapolating from the population survey findings, we could only account for a maximum of US$4 million received by households in BiH and RS up to May 1997, of the US$16 million dispersed by the program up to that time.

Conclusions: Targeting of the cash transfers program was poor, with large inclusion and exclusion errors. Much of the disbursed cash apparently did not reach the intended beneficiaries and could not be accounted for. Agencies on the ground did not have the necessary skills to handle the disbursements or to train national organizations to do so.

MeSH terms

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Financial Support*
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Warfare