10 lessons the Syrian refugee crisis can teach us about cash transfers

A Syrian refugee in Lebanon does some grocery shopping after receiving her food vouchers. Food vouchers and cash transfers play an increasingly vital role in humanitarian action. Photo by: WFP / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

Nongovernmental organizations have long called for the use of cash transfers not just as part of poverty alleviation efforts but also in emergency settings. Cash transfers, international relief groups argue, could not only empower beneficiaries to purchase based on their needs but stimulate local economies as well.

But although cash transfers now play an increasingly vital role in humanitarian action, many questions remain as to how cash-based assistance should be designed and implemented to reach maximum efficiency. With various large-scale programs having been conducted in the Middle East, notably in Jordan and Lebanon, the current Syrian refugee crisis has taught implementing partners many lessons on how cash can be used.

Unlike in underdeveloped economies or disaster-stricken areas, most Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are living outside of camps, and can find most basic goods in local markets. A fully functioning banking sector in both countries has also allowed for cash transfers and food vouchers to be delivered in electronic form.

While this framework somewhat limits the ability of humanitarian organizations to replicate this model in other emergency settings, it has provided some insights into the role refugees can play in host communities.

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About the author

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    Flavie Halais

    Flavie Halais is a freelance journalist based in Montreal who covers cities and international social issues. In 2013-2014, Flavie was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellow, reporting for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also reported from Rwanda, Brazil and Colombia.