LONDON/BEIRUT – WFP is rolling out an innovative electronic voucher programme in Lebanon that will allow hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to buy their food at local shops.
By the year’s end, some 800,000 refugees will be using these electronic cards – or “e-cards” – at participating shops in Lebanon under an initiative realized with the support of WFP’s partner, MasterCard.
Ali, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, talks about how the electronic food card has eased the strain of providing for his family.
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,” said Elisabeth Rasmusson, WFP’s Assistant Executive Director for Partnership and Governance Services.
Shopping for groceries
Families will receive a card loaded monthly with US$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.
The project was piloted in September for around 10,000 people in the southern Lebanese town of Nabityeh and will be gradually expanded across the country, replacing the paper vouchers that refugees already receive.
“This is a real boon for Syrian refugees who have endured tremendous hardship over many months,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP’s Emergency coordinator 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.”
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, WFP voucher programmes have injected roughly US $192 million into the local economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
“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.
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.
The Syria response is WFP’s largest and most complex emergency operation. WFP needs US$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, among others.