UN launches e-food vouchers for Syrian refugees
London, October 12, 2013
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is rolling out an innovative electronic voucher programme in Lebanon that will allow hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to meet their food needs and help boost the local economy.
The WFP move comes as part of its massive humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, said a senior official.
By the end of the year, some 800,000 refugees will be using these electronic cards – or “e-cards” – at participating shops in Lebanon under an initiative realized with the technical support of WFP’s private sector partner, MasterCard.
Besides Lebanon, WFP will be introducing a similar e-card programme for Syrian refugees in Jordan, again with MasterCard’s support, in a phased rollout for an initial 300,000 refugees by the end of 2013 that will continue into next year.
“The new e-cards will allow Syrian refugees to choose the foods they want, when they want,” remarked Elisabeth Rasmusson, the WFP’s assistant executive director for Partnership and Governance Services.
“We are grateful for MasterCard’s assistance in setting up the e-voucher system in Lebanon and Jordan, the two countries hosting the largest number of refugees. It’s just one example of how our combined efforts can offer powerful and innovative ways to fight hunger,” she stated.
The e-card collaboration is part of a larger, multi-year partnership with MasterCard, launched in September 2012. It twins MasterCard’s prowess in electronic payments systems with WFP’s vast experience assisting the planet’s hungriest and most vulnerable people.
“At MasterCard we believe that technology has the power to unlock innovation in food aid delivery, enabling a greater impact and helping achieve the vision that a world beyond cash builds a world beyond hunger,” said Ann Cairns, MasterCard’s president of International Markets.
“We are committed to working with the UN World Food Programme to end world hunger,” she added.
Piloted in September for some 2,000 Syrian households (around 10,000 people) in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, the e-card programme will be gradually expanded to other parts of the country in the coming weeks, replacing WFP’s paper vouchers.
Families will receive a card loaded monthly with $27 per person, which can be redeemed against a list of items at participating local stores. That allows them to buy the foods that fit their needs, including fresh produce which is not normally included in traditional food rations.
“This is a real boon for Syrian refugees who have endured tremendous hardship over many months,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP’s emergency co-ordinator for the Syrian crisis.
“The e-cards also bring business to local merchants, and they make WFP’s operations more time and cost effective. This is a win for all of us,” he pointed out
“By supporting WFP, we have developed a solution which combines our experience in payments and technology with WFP’s insight into the most pressing needs facing refugees,” said MasterCard’s Levant Market Manager, Basel El Tell. “It is very encouraging to see how the e-cards can positively impact the refugees as the initiative scales up across the region.”
The e-cards reflect WFP’s broader shift away from physical food deliveries to vouchers and other cutting-edge forms of assistance that can be more effective and have a larger impact. So far in 2013, through voucher programmes for Syrian refugees, WFP has injected roughly US$ 192 million into the local economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
The Syria response is WFP’s largest and most complex emergency operation. WFP needs $30 million each week to meet the needs of people affected by the conflict.
WFP’s operations in Lebanon are being supported by Australia, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Norway, UK and the US.-TradeArabia News Service