A pilot project in Damascus has begun distributing WFP food vouchers in the form of mobile phone text messages to Iraqi refugees. It’s believed to be the first such scheme in the world.
Reported by Selly Muzammil
As part of a ground-breaking pilot project, she is receiving food vouchers electronically over her phone, which she can then spend in selected government-run shops. Instead of travelling to a distribution centre and struggling back with a two-month ration of food, she can now pick and choose to buy what she wants, when she wants.
Check out what NYT blogger Freakonomics said about WFP's 'food aid by text message' initiative.
“I ran out of savings and became totally dependent on WFP’s in-kind donations,” said
Cheese and eggs
Refugees can buy items such as cheese and eggs that are difficult to transport and could not normally be included in a conventional aid basket.
Tariq, another participant in the scheme, said he was happy with the variety and ease of access: “No more long trip to the distribution site, and we can go anytime. I hope this project can be a success and will expand its coverage.”
Every two months, those taking part in the scheme receive a coded message on a special
Around one thousand families are involved in the four-month pilot phase, which will be extended if it is successful. The project has been developed in cooperation with the Syrian government, enabling the refugees to redeem their vouchers in state-run stores in the Jaramana and Sayeda Zeinab neighbourhoods of
Government figures put the number of Iraqis in
Aid agencies have used phone messages and ATM cards to transfer cash to those in need, but this is believed to be the first time mobiles have been used to deliver food vouchers. Schemes involving vouchers are particularly useful in urban settings where food is available but those in need are unable to afford it.
*Names have been changed in this report