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From Food Rations To Vouchers In Tripoli, Lebanon

On a narrow unpaved alleyway hidden between green bushes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, a vacant yard was turned into a distribution site for food and non-food assistance. Hundreds of Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their home country picked up thier family food packages there. The monthly ration was heavy and the transportation was an additional burden. Now, they are able to buy their own food from local shops using vouchers.

Tripoli, LEBANON -- “The family food package consists of two cartons of 42 kg containing 19 different commodities including cereals, such as rice and bulgur, humus, canned tuna and canned meat, cheese, jam, oil, and sugar,” explained David Baduel, WFP head of sub-office in Qubayat, northern Lebanon. “But now all refugees in Tripoli are receiving value-based food vouchers instead of family packages. Only new arrivals will get parcels pending their registration,” Baduel said. 

The volatile security situation in the city had delayed the voucher programme in Tripoli after it had already kicked off in two other areas with heavy Syrian refugee population; the Bekaa Valley and Akkar. 

Syrian refugees in Tripoli had been looking forward to receiving the vouchers. 

“Vouchers are much better, this way, we only buy what we need, instead of having to eat what we are offered,” said a Syrian refugee from Idleb. 

The voucher system is an innovative intervention that gives refugees the freedom and choice to decide for themselves what to buy, when and where.  

“Every 5 or 6 days, I redeem a voucher and I don’t have to worry about storing a large amount and I get my need for the week,” says a Syrian woman in Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley who preferred to remain anonymous. “I mainly buy chicken, yogurt, cheese, sugar, and vegetables. Thank god we have a fridge, other people don’t and will have to buy canned and ready to eat food.” 

WFP conducted shop assessments in Tripoli to identify and select shops where Syrian refugees can redeem their vouchers. A few kilometres away, in the Akkar district and the Bekaa Valley, the voucher system has already been running well and is helping the local economy too. 

“At first, some shops in Bekaa were reluctant to participate in the voucher programme, but when they saw for themselves how other shops were benefiting and money coming in they are now keen on being part of our voucher project,” says WFP Head of the Bekaa sub-office Elena Bertola. 

Mohamad Zaarour, a shop owner in Arsal, says vouchers helped his business improve. 

“Last month, I received 1,270 vouchers, which is almost an extra US$40,000 in sales for one month. My business was always good but now it is even better,” he said.