Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million people, has taken in probably close to 1.5 million Syrians fleeing their civil war. At equivalent levels, the United States would have 107 million Syrian refugees by now.
Lebanon’s government and international aid groups are doing something new: Each needy Syrian refugee family gets a banking card. Family members use it to shop for food at the 450 participating stores and markets; a family of five gets about $135 per month.
“There is nothing that could replace cash,” said Alan Moseley, the Lebanon country director for the International Rescue Committee, a member of the Lebanon Cash Consortium. “If we provided shelter materials, clothing, food or direct rent subsidies, it would be more costly to deliver and people would be getting things they don’t necessarily need.”
Research comparing cash and in-kind aid in four countries found that cash allowed more people to be helped for the same money, as many as 23 percent more.
Providing cash is also much faster than sending food, which can take months to arrive. Cash is flexible. It reduces waste. It protects dignity–especially important for people who have lost almost all control over their lives. And there is overwhelming evidence that people do not spend cash on alcohol and cigarettes.
Another major way cash can help refugees: it builds good will with hosts. Syrians go to nearby stores to buy food that has been grown by local farmers and transported in local trucks.
One problem that cash can’t solve is the big one: There’s not enough aid. These grants will reach only half of the very poorest refugees.
[New York Times]