Basic Needs Approach in the Refugee Response
This document presents the basic needs approach that UNHCR is pursuing and expanding across operations when providing multipurpose cash grants complemented by sector specific assistance.
What is a Basic Needs Approach?
UNHCR defines the basic needs approach as a way to enable refugees to meet their basic needs and achieve longer-term well-being through means to survive and services based on their socio-economic vulnerabilities and capacities.
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, multisectoral needs assessment, response analysis, delivery of assistance and services, referrals, accountability to affected people and monitoring.
UNHCR identifies refugees in need and, with partners, analyses their economic vulnerability based on a contextspecific minimum level of expenditure that a refugee household needs to meet the costs of food, basic household items, rent and water each month. Additional analysis is conducted to understand needs beyond these ‘immediate consumption needs’.
UNHCR and partners then design the response to enable refugee households to meet, at a minimum, their basic needs. The approach adds cash as an option to address these needs while linking refugees to national service delivery systems, where possible.
The basic needs approach is particularly suited to multipurpose 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, the basic needs approach facilitates the delivery of an immediate minimum safety net, to be complemented by specific protection and 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 refugees at the centre of assistance design, encouraging sectors to combine their efforts into one coordinated and standardized package of MPGs complemented by sector specific assistance and access to services with referrals to appropriate service providers.
• 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 sectoral 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 basic needs approach also considers long-term well being, including needs related to protection, sustainable livelihoods and solutions. The 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 socioeconomic 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, have increased focus on building on existing structures and development initiatives, including facilitating access of refugees to national service delivery systems to ensure sustainability of the response and foster solutions.