This working paper, based largely on interviews with 31 individuals from donor organisations, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations in Lebanon and headquarters, impartially documents the process and the positions and perspectives of key actors involved in developing and responding to the joint United Kingdom Department for International Development and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations cash initiative. It is intended as a positive contribution to learning lessons from the process, and to inform discussion on how cash can be part of a more effective humanitarian response in Lebanon and elsewhere.
The war in Syria has had catastrophic consequences for civilians, and caused the flight of over five million Syrians to neighbouring countries. Since 2012, the humanitarian response to the crisis has been the largest globally. In Lebanon, which has received the most refugees, international humanitarian funding has grown 30-fold, from $43 million in 2011 to $1.3 billion in 2016.1 In 2016, $400–$500 million (30–38%) of this assistance was in the form of cash or vouchers (paper coupons and electronic cards that can be redeemed for goods at pre-selected shops). Cash and voucher programmes began relatively small, increasing in size and number as the number of refugees grew. Some programmes target particular sectors and needs – notably food vouchers and ‘winterisation’ cash transfers – while ‘multipurpose’ cash transfers are intended to enable refugees to meet priority non-food needs that span humanitarian sectors. Over time, the coordination of cash and voucher programmes has improved, including multiple aid agencies loading their transfers onto the same payment cards.