Technology makes life easier for Malian refugees in Niger

Since the introduction of cash vouchers in 2013, WFP and UNHCR have been looking for a way to build a simpler, more innovative, secure and flexible mechanism that would respond to the needs of Malian refugees in Mangaize refugee camp. In August, this became a reality as the two agencies introduced the new e-Voucher system that will benefit thousands of refugees located in one of Niger’s harshest regions.

The cash voucher was introduced to give refugees the possibility to choose their own rations from the traders partnering with WFP with the aim of diversifying the contents of their food basket. Today, the paper-based cash vouchers have been transfored into e-Vouchers, and can be redeemed at the same retailers partnering with WFP.

After UNHCR confirms the status and identity of the household, refugees are registered, enrolled into the SCOPE platform—a powerful and flexible data source that allows WFP to better keep track of registrations—and each household is provided with an electronic card which is charged every month. Upon receiving the card, the refugee families head to the distribution center where merchants verify the ownership of the card through a unique PIN code. 

44-year-old Moziga Aichatou (below) fled the conflict in Mali in 2012 with her husband, El Hadj Gimraw and their 10 children. She has been living in Mangaize camp with her family and was the first refugee to receive the e-voucher card.

“Now I can shop like everyone else and choose the products I usually eat. I gain a lot of time because I don’t have to queue to receive my rations anymore. It’s good to be back to normal,” she says.

For many other refugees like Moziga this electronic card represents a newfound dignity. The long queues to receive the paper vouchers are now an old memory.

The new platform brings significant advantages for WFP, UNHCR and their partners as well The card is issued for the whole duration of the food assistance and is automatically recharged with no transaction costs. The retailers are no longer forced to verify the authenticity of the paper-based vouchers or count them one by one and the long distribution chain that existed with the paper vouchers has been reduced to a simple interaction between retailers and refugees.

This platform will also improve the transparency and quality of data, and provides a more effective way to collect the data for monitoring and evaluation purposes for both agencies. 

It is estimated that the e-Vouchers mechanism in Mangaize camp allows WFP to save USD $60,000 per year compared to the paper vouchers process.

To date, nearly 9,000 refugees benefitted from the e-Vouchers. WFP will scale up the use of e-Vouchers to 66,300 people living in the other camps before the end of the year. In 2017, WFP plans to further broaden the use of this new assistance mechanism to reach also non-refugee beneficiaries.

Written by: Sidiki Traoré Boubacar, WFP Niger. All photos: WFP/Fati Abdou.