Ali, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, has a lot on his shoulders. As he struggles to provide for his own family and that of his missing brother, an electronic food card from WFP is taking off some of the strain.
BEIRUT – Ali used to have a profitable construction business in Idlib, northwestern Syria. Now he gets occasional work as a daily labourer in Nabatiyeh, a town in southern Lebanon. It’s barely enough to cover the rent.
He’s in a tough spot because he has found himself as the sole provider for a family group of 12 people. As well as looking after his own wife and four children, he is also acting as guardian for the wife and children of his brother. His brother disappeared about a year ago, shortly after fighting invaded the streets of their hometown. He doesn’t know what happened to him.
“In Idlib, I had a big house, my business was good. I lived like a king,” he recalls.
Now Ali’s family and his brother’s family all live in a rented and barely furnished apartment in Nabatiyeh. Like the majority of the 785,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Ali had spent all his savings during the first months of exile.
Ali was among the first Syrian refugees in Lebanon to receive electronic cards as part of a pilot project conducted in Nabatiyeh. With MasterCard’s support, WFP distributed the first E-cards to around 1,800 Syrian families in the town.
“As the most reliable and timely form of assistance in Lebanon, the electronic cards provide a safety net to Syrian refugees . Without it, they would struggle to make ends meet,” said Hazem El-Zein, WFP’s Field Coordinator.
The card can be used to purchase food as needed, throughout the month, saving on transport costs and allowing refugees to buy fresh food when they want. Ali lists sugar, rice, tea, lentils, bulgur wheat, and vegetables as his main food purchases.
Ali says he depends on WFP’s food assistance to feed his big family. “If the assistance stops, many people will be forced to beg in the streets. Because they have nothing. They came from Syria with nothing,” he reflects.
WFP started rolling out electronic vouchers at the beginning of October. By the end of the year, WFP aims to assist Syrian refugees throughout the country with e-cards reaching around 800,000 people.
Each family receives a card that will be loaded each month with US$27 for every family member. The card can be used in some 300 shops participating in the programme across Lebanon. The money will be automatically up-loaded to the cards, so refugees don’t have to wait in line to receive their entitlements.
The system also helps boost the local economy. Since the beginning of 2013, the voucher system injected over US$82 million into the local economy of Lebanon. In September, WFP provided food assistance to some 616,000 Syrian refugees. Since the beginning of this year, WFP has increased its food assistance in Lebanon four times over.