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Egypt: How WFP signs up refugees from Sudan for cash grants in three minutes

World Food Programme innovation facilitates food assistance within a remarkably quick window
, Gabrielle Menezes
A Sudanese woman awaits cash assistance across the border in Egypt
A Sudanese refugee at a reception centre in Cairo - waiting times are being cut with WFP's new system. Photo: WFP/Egypt

Like most of the people fleeing the fighting in Sudan, Safa is dealing with trauma. After living without water and electricity for days after the breakout of conflict in the country on 15 April, her family woke up to the sound of explosions. They then took the difficult decision to leave their home, taking with them only their most precious valuables and documents.

“The blessing of being safe and secure is the biggest thing we’ve lost since we fled. Maybe we took this for granted before. Suddenly we woke up and we were afraid to be in our own home,” she says. 

Safa, her parents and her two sisters spent more than a day travelling on a bus before queuing for hours to cross into Egypt. Now safely in Aswan, money is the first thing they need, not only to buy food, but also to find a place to stay. 

Cash distribution in Egypt for refugees from Sudan
WFP staff register refugees at a reception set up in Cairo. Photo: WFP/Egypt

In the most uncertain times, WFP gives people assistance in the form of cash – which empowers people with a measure of security and control. The money enables people with the power of choice – they can buy the things they need most. 

People in crisis normally register for humanitarian assistance by waiting in line to give their personal information. Staff verify and check data and then prepare distribution lists – a process that can take weeks. 

WFP’s developed a revolutionary way of enrolling people so cash assistance can be dispensed in around three minutes.

“When WFP puts money into people’s hands, they can use it to buy food and what they need most in their local market, which also supports the local economy,” says Praveen Agrawal, WFP’s country director for Egypt.  

People arriving from Sudan are greeted by UN staff in Egypt
WFP and UNICEF colleagues register people in Aswan. Photo: WFP Egypt
How it works

WFP’s cash programmes are constantly innovating to send people money in hard-to-reach places as seamlessly as possible. In some countries we continue to pay people in hard currency, but as digital systems and mobile money have evolved, WFP has found innovative ways to relay assistance, ever striving for the quickest and easiest routes. 

In Ukraine, WFP’s pioneered an online registration approach – people simply filled in a form to send their information directly to the organization to receive money. That very tool has been adapted to fit the current context in Egypt to sign on Sudanese refugees.

The new approach does not require specialized hardware and can be set up within 48 hours or in anticipation of an emergency. It operates in real-time so that data is collected, duplicate identities are eliminated, and people receive assistance at incredible speed.

Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Representative in Egypt, said: “Providing cash assistance to Sudanese families within three minutes is a significant achievement and crucial to addressing urgent and basic needs. In addition to cash assistance, UNICEF is collaborating with WFP to facilitate easy referral and access to critical services so that we ensure every right for every child.”

Once a person arrives, WFP’s team enters their details into a database. The system automatically checks to verify that they haven’t received this assistance before. Then each person is given an electronic payment card that is topped up with US$15 dollars per person - the average family receives US$75.

People can cash out the money from the card through a financial service provider, which gives them the freedom to spend outside their locale, should they need to move again

Alongside contact information, basic questions are asked so WFP can determine which individuals are in greatest need of further assistance – for example, pregnant women or people with disabilities.

Safa and her family are renting an apartment and the money will make a difference to them as they count the days to when they can return home and once again feel safe.  

Learn more about WFP and cash assistance

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