The EU and Britain have met resistance to a new $85 million project to simplify cash allowances for Syrian refugees. In future, only one contractor will handle the payments and another will monitor the project, replacing systems involving some nine aid agencies.

The donors say the new arrangement, due to start in the next few months, will reduce duplication and improve accountability. The new formula, however, challenges the humanitarian status quo. A senior UN official says it may “undermine coordination” and “create problems”. The atmosphere around the bidding process has been at times “toxic”, insiders say.

Analyst Wendy Fenton of the Overseas Development Institute described the scheme as “deliberately disruptive” and a “real departure from business as usual”. The donors argue the design was a logical outcome of reform commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit last May and is in the best interests of refugees and taxpayers.

As IRIN has reported, the Lebanon operation is already a pioneer when it comes to using cash and bank cards to support refugees. Needy refugees get a variety of entitlements according to their circumstances, channelled as top-ups on a debit card. They also get e-vouchers to buy food. The key agencies are UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF, as well as a six-NGO group, the Lebanon Cash Consortium. Having moved the various systems to a single card and bank recently, the new proposal will simplify one channel still further.

The proposition – from the EU’s humanitarian aid arm, ECHO, and Britain’s international development department, DFID – departs from the status quo in three main areas: a single agency will manage cash transfers from the two donors; a separate independent contractor will monitor; the project will insist on delivering money, instead of vouchers.


“Common sense”?

The backers say the new concept is common sense. Opponents believe the move is hurried, the benefits unproven, and that a de facto monopoly will be less effective than the status quo.

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