Relief agencies in Lebanon recently introduced a single common card for Syrian refugees that is designed to streamline and facilitate their access to humanitarian aid.
The joint debit card, the first of its kind, consolidates the efforts of the World Food Programme (WFP), UN children’s fund (UNICEF), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Lebanon Cash Consortium.
The card, which began to be distributed in October, is designed to help the most vulnerable people benefit from a range of humanitarian programmes while lowering costs to the participating agencies, the agencies said.
"Refugees will be able to receive food aid, monthly cash transfers for multiple purposes, support for children to enroll and stay in school, special winter aid between November and March and a special allowance during certain difficult times," WFP said in a statement.
Using the new red debit card, "they will be able to choose the food they need from any of the 480 shops that have signed up with the WFP, or beneficiaries could just withdraw money from any automated teller machine (ATM) in Lebanon", the statement said.
"The new card will make it easier to reach out to more than one million Syrian refugees spread across 2,000 towns and neighbourhoods in Lebanon," it added.
"The single debit card facilitates aid distribution to Syrian refugees and makes the process more effective, while bringing down costs," said Philippe Lazzarini, humanitarian co-ordinator and UN Development Programme resident representative in the Office of the UN Special Co-ordinator for Lebanon.
"Aid agencies are seeking to reach 900,000 refugees in need before the end of the year," he said at a December 1st press conference.
Before the introduction of the single card, refugees had to use multiple cards and different distribution centres to receive aid.
Combining humanitarian aid
The single card consolidates humanitarian aid from four organisations, UNHCR assistant public information officer Lisa Abu Khaled told Al-Mashareq.
"The card was ready to be used as of October 1st, and we have managed to give away 130,000 cards, which benefit 660,000 people and are topped up with $175 every month," she said.
"In the past, refugees would get a white card for the UNHCR winter aid and the Lebanon Cash Consortium aid, a blue card for aid from the WFP and another card from UNICEF for education aid," she said.
With the single card system, Abu Khaled said, "refugees are free to spend their money according to their needs".
The card allows them to purchase goods from shops working with the WFP according to their needs, she said, in place of receiving in-kind donations.
The single card makes it easier for humanitarian aid to reach refugees and is more cost effective for aid agencies, Abu Khaled said.
At present, she added, 25% of refugees are using the new card, and the goal is to raise that to 50%, to include families living in extreme poverty.
The single debit card is loaded with $175 that is topped up every month, she said, in addition to $75 winter aid.
"As for families that do not receive the monthly allowance, they are eligible for a one off winter allowance of $147 for the five months of winter," she added.
Meeting the needs of refugees
The Lebanon Cash Consortium is working on a cash project with 14,000 of the most needy Syrian families in collaboration with organisations including World Vision, Save The Children, Care, ACTED and the International Rescue Committee, said Yara Shehayed, head of communication and public information.
"We used to distribute unconditional cash allowances, but now, we have joined forces with UNHCR and the WFP and issued the single debit card," she told Al-Mashareq.
"With this card, we can help refugees buy what they need themselves from shops and commercial centres that have contracts with the WFP, and they also can withdraw money from any ATM in Lebanon," she said.
By consolidating their efforts in this way, she said, aid agencies have established a single crisis management mechanism for refugees.
After fleeing Aleppo four years ago, Layla Mohammed al-Khalil and her husband, 8-year-old son, Mohammed, and 6-year-old daughter, Nour, sought refuge in Mazraat Yachouh in al-Metn.
She previously used a white card designated for winter aid and a blue card for cash allowances and food, she told Al-Mashareq, "and on more than one occasion I would go to an ATM to withdraw money with the food card".
After receiving the single debit card in November, al-Khalil said, she no longer needs the multiple cards.
"I can use the red card anywhere to buy what we need," she said. "This new system has saved us a lot and allows me to buy what I need for my family."