As part of its massive humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, 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.
By the year’s end, about 800 000 refugees will be using these e-cards – at participating shops in Lebanon under an initiative realised 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,” says Elizabeth Rasmusson, 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.”
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,” says Ann Cairns, MasterCard’s president of International Markets. “We are committed to working with the UN World Food Programme to end world hunger.”
Piloted in September for about 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,” says 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.”