Cash-like vouchers improve psychological well-being of vulnerable and displaced persons fleeing armed conflict

The psychological burden of conflict-induced displacement is severe. Currently, there are 80 million displaced persons around the world, and their number is expected to increase in upcoming decades. Yet, few studies have systematically assessed the effectiveness of programs that assist displaced persons, especially in settings of extreme vulnerability. We focus on eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where myriad local armed conflicts have driven cycles of displacement for over 20 years. We conducted a within-village randomized field experiment with 976 households, across 25 villages, as part of the United Nations’ Rapid Response to Population Movements program. The program provided humanitarian relief to over a million people each year, including vouchers for essential nonfood items, such as pots, pans, cloth, and mattresses. The vouchers led to large improvements in psychological well-being: a 0.32 standard deviation unit (SDU) improvement at 6 weeks, and a 0.18 SDU improvement at 1 year. There is no evidence that the program undermined social cohesion within the village, which alleviates worries related to programs that target some community members but not others. Finally, there was no improvement in child health.