Basic Needs Approach in the Refugee Response
This document presents the basic needs approach that UNHCR is pursuing and expanding across operations when providing multi-purpose cash grants to refugees in collaboration with partners.
What is a Basic Needs Approach?
UNHCR defines the basic needs approach as a way to enable refugees, based on their socio-economic vulnerabilities, to meet their basic needs through means to survive and access to services. Anchored in a rights-based approach and delivered in partnership, it is an integral part of protection and solutions.
Utilizing a poverty lens, the basic needs approach consists of such elements as: identity management, multi-sectoral needs assessment, response analysis, delivery of assistance, referrals, accountability to affected people and monitoring.
UNHCR identifies refugees in need and with partners analyses their economic vulnerability based on a context-specific minimum level of expenditure — as a poverty line — that a refugee household needs to meet the costs of food, basic household items, rent, and water each month.
UNHCR and partners then design the response to enable refugee households to fill — at a minimum — these basic needs through assistance and service provision, both year-round and during seasonal events, such as harsh winters. The basic needs approach is particularly suited to Multi-Purpose Cash Grants (MPGs), which can be more cost effective and timely than in-kind assistance, delivered at scale to a large dispersed refugee population. MPGs empower refugees, enabling households to decide how to prioritize their expenditures.
Why a Basic Needs Approach?
Being part of UNHCR's core business, it facilitates the delivery of an immediate minimum safety net, to be complemented by more specific sector interventions through in-kind or cash, or ensuring access to services.
• It is an integral and critical part of the protection and solutions strategy: it ensures protection through registration and accountability to affected people.
• It also promotes refugee access to national systems and services and longer-term and sustainable solutions.
• It puts the refugee at the centre of assistance design, encouraging sectors to combine their efforts into one coordinated and standardized package of MPGs and services.
• Anchored in multi-sectoral needs assessments, it promotes do no harm, addresses inconsistencies in assistance levels and can result in efficiency gains.
• It can facilitate the referral of households or individuals to a specific sector or protection intervention.
UNHCR and Basic Needs
UNHCR has employed a multi-sector response to refugee emergencies and cash assistance for more than two decades. The UNHCR Results Framework defines basic needs in terms of access to basic services and assistance in health, nutrition, WASH, food, shelter, energy, education, as well as domestic items and specialised services for people with specific needs. The current basic needs approach builds on these experiences, with the added value of cash becoming an option in an increasing number of contexts.
The Syria crisis has grounded existing sector-based approaches to basic needs in a common understanding of socio-economic vulnerability of refugee families and communities within the overall protection and solutions strategy for refugees and a broader complementary coordination system. Recent policy directions, such as alternatives to camps, has increased focus on building on existing structures and development initiatives, including facilitating access of refugees' to national service delivery systems so to ensure sustainability of the response and foster solutions.