In humanitarian disasters of the past, from Haiti to Palestine to Louisiana, in-kind donations flooded a troubled region, and displaced people would queue for bags of rice, or blankets or bottled water. Often, those disasters would be followed by claims that the aid hadn’t been sufficient, or that it had never been delivered to those who needed it. With little accountability, food went to waste on airstrips or in fields. Trucks were diverted by corruption or fraud, or waylaid by insufficient infrastructure.
Jordan has more than 689,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers living within its borders, and now new technology is being both used in camps and in the urban areas to ensure they are able to access cash assistance quickly, safely, and with dignity. The technology also adds a layer of accountability to aid organizations, who can track to the last cent where the aid is going, and whether it was delivered to the appropriate person.
An elderly Syrian approaches an automatic teller machine, grasps it by its sides, and peers into its abyss. The machine peered back, and in the blink of an eye, dispensed dinars. It’s part of a scheme that incorporates iris scanners—much like those used by tourists arriving at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman—as a means of identity verification for those whose visit to Jordan is more prolonged.
Many stateless people in Jordan and elsewhere no longer have access to their bank accounts, let alone identification papers. The things many non-migrants take for granted in their daily banking regime—a regular mailing address, proof of employment, credit history—are merely reminders of another life for many of the refugees living in Jordan and elsewhere.
Distributing cash allows a woman to buy sanitary products at the time she needs, or to buy medicine when a child is sick. It means a family can buy the types of food that suits their needs, or reminds them more of home, or provides more nutrition than the bag du jour from an aid organization. The money is spent in the local shops, and stays in the local economy.