BEIRUT: Over the past several weeks, the Lebanon Cash Consortium – a group of international NGOs – and the UNHCR have begun rolling out a new, unified cash assistance program for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese host communities. The system, based on a single debit card, is meant to simplify aid delivery and provide refugees more choices in how they spend their money. Dubbed the Common Card Program, the new arrangement replaces previous systems in which different kinds of cash aid were provided via separate means.
Currently, the most in need refugees who are eligible for this form of unconditional, multipurpose cash assistance receive $175 per month. This is in addition to extra funds that certain families may receive for specific interventions.
At the start of the Syria crisis aid groups largely relied on voucher systems and in-kind donations. However, benefits of providing cash alternatives became clear and by mid-2014 many NGOs were operating some form of cash card system. The new, unified card is the first to roll all into a single debit card.
Yara Chehayed, Communications Lead at the LCC, explained that the single-card system is a significant improvement over prior attempts at direct-cash distribution. “In the past, people would have had many cards, pin codes, and vouchers,” she said – each tied to a specific kind of aid.
Now however, with the cooperation of multiple agencies and NGOs, including the World Food Program, Save the Children, CARE and the International Rescue Committee, each family would receive a single card. “It provides all kinds of assistance from food to winterization, education and unconditional cash,” Chehayed told The Daily Star.
The LCC is also putting together a centralized call center that recipients can easily access. “The hotline allows beneficiaries to call one line, rather than distributing a bunch of different numbers,” Chehayed said. Nevertheless, this system has not been fully completed and has yet to be implemented.
Lisa Abu Khaled, a Public Information Officer at UNHCR, explained that one of the driving forces behind the utilization of cash assistance over traditional humanitarian distribution was the exponential growth of refugees in countries like Lebanon.
This massive increase strained the abilities of UNHCR and NGOs to accommodate the ever-growing needs of the refugee community. “It helps us to make the best use of the available funds,” she explained. Instead of relying on in-kind support like food, blankets and medicine, the card programs “eliminate the cost of procurement, storage and the logistics of distribution.”
Chehayed echoed this claim. “You don’t have operational costs and you have much less waste.” Though program’s efficiency, she noted, is not limited to eliminating overhead costs. “With the new system, you won’t have one family with 10 blankets and no food.”
“It’s cost effective for everybody,” Abu Khaled said.
Nevertheless, she explained that the benefits of programs like the Common Card do not only lie in their ability to centralize aid distribution. “Refugees prefer this kind of assistance,” she explained. “It gives them the liberty of choosing how to spend their money.”
While more research on the effects of cash over in-kind aid is needed, research conducted by UNHCR and other groups does demonstrate that cash assistance tends to improve the economy of local regions in which it is implemented.
While the new single-card system is a relatively recent innovation – distribution began last week – both the LCC and UNHCR are hoping to rapidly expand the program. “Between the UNHCR and the LCC, our target is to reach 53,000 families throughout the course of the program,” Abu Khaled told the Daily Star.
Though this is only a fraction of the over 1 million refugees currently living in Lebanon, the card is specifically designed for the most vulnerable families. “Currently, 52 percent of refugees are classified as extremely vulnerable – or those below the extreme poverty line of $2.90 a day,” Abu Khaled said.
Source & Link : The Daily Star