Text Messaging Helps Thousands of Iraqi Refugees in Syria Receive UN Food Aid

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Tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria will now be able to receive United Nations food aid by exchanging coupons sent to their mobile telephones as the first such electronic food voucher system in the world moves beyond its pilot phase to embrace those living outside Damascus the capital.

Under the voucher project, which has proved effective in feeding refugees in cities where food is available on the market but out of their economic reach, beneficiaries receive a text message providing a code enabling them to cash in all or part of the virtual voucher at selected Government shops.

"WFP's Electronic Voucher System is an innovative and revolutionary way to deliver food assistance to Iraqi refugees in Syria," WFP country Director Muhannad Hadi said. "After successful implementation inside Damascus, we are expanding its implementation in other governorates. We have already reached 100 per cent of the refugees living in Homs, Lattakia, and Tartous and by the end of October we are planning to expand in Edlib, Hama and Daraa."

Started last October with 1,000 refugee families in Damascus, it has now been extended to more than 9,600 families, or about 32,500 Iraqis, who can exchange the voucher, worth $30 per person per two-month cycle, for more than 15 different commodities such as rice, lentils, chickpeas, oil, canned fish and sugar, as well as cheese and eggs, fresh produce that cannot usually be included in conventional aid baskets.

After each transaction, another text message will be sent informing them of their remaining balance will. "This system provides families with the freedom to select food of their own choice, at any selected shop and at any time they wish," Mr. Hadi said.

There are more than 1 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, according to Government figures, with some 130,000 regularly receiving WFP food and non-food aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has also appealed to the world community to make the 65 percent shortfall in the USD32 million needed for the 130,000 Iraqi refugees it helps in Syria.

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Tags: damascus  text message  united nations  planning  Syria 

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