STUDY OBJECTIVES & METHODOLOGY
This report presents the results of the 2020 annual Post-Distribution Monitoring (PDM) of UNHCR’s urban basic needs cash assistance programme in Jordan. Through an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) banking network equipped with iris scan technology, the agency disburses over 5.5 million United States Dollars (USD) per month to about 33,000 vulnerable refugee families across the country. UNHCR Jordan’s population of concern consists mainly (90%+) of Syrian refugees, but the organisation also assists refugees from other countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Assistance is designed to allow refugees in urban environments in Jordan to meet their basic needs.
A survey was administered via phone to 600 respondents across the country, ensuring representativeness among both Syrian and non-Syrian refugee beneficiaries of UNHCR Jordan basic needs cash assistance. The survey covers the receiving and withdrawing journey from the beneficiary perspective. It also contains indicators relevant to satisfaction and potential problems encountered, spending patterns, and impact in different dimensions ranging from food security to coping mechanisms. The quantitative data was complemented by qualitative Focus Group Discussions (FGDs).
KEY FINDINGS: SEVEN MESSAGES
1. Use of cash to meet essential household needs
As intended, almost all respondents use the cash to meet their running essential household needs: rent and food. To a lesser extent, the cash is used to pay for utilities, health, and water. The percentage of respondents spending their cash assistance on food has steadily increased since 2018. Different governorates exhibit distinct cash expenditure patterns with Amman and Zarqa appearing to be considerably pricier environments. Only 4% of respondents use cash to reduce debt, a significant decrease from the 16% reported in 2019 and a testament to the increased challenges brought by 2020, and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)’s impacts. The proportion of refugee households holding debt has remained steady between 2019 and 2020 (88% and 87% respectively).
2. Negative coping mechanisms remain common
Through regular post-distribution monitoring, UNHCR aims to monitor the degree to which basic needs cash recipients rely on negative coping strategies. This study finds that these remain common, with non-Syrian refugees in particular scoring poorly on the weighted reduced Coping Strategy Index (rCSI). Data shows a trend of declining levels of food security for non-Syrian refugee PDM respondents since 2018, while for Syrian refugee respondents, levels of food security appear to have increased slightly since mid-2020. Emergency level coping strategies like begging and exploitative labour were reported by fewer than 2% of all respondents, but coping is at crisis-level (as shown by the need to reduce non-food expenditure) for almost half of all respondents. Coping mechanisms differ between Syrian and non-Syrian refugees. The former were found more likely to borrow money, while the latter appear more likely to be forced to move to lower-quality shelters. Syrian and non-Syrian cash recipients displaced similar frequencies for all emergency-level coping strategies.
3. Debt as a coping mechanism and opportunities for financial inclusion
Another coping mechanism for many refugee households in Jordan is debt. The proportion of cash recipients interviewed for this study who hold debt decreased slightly since mid-2020, which might point to difficulties in accessing credit. Syrian refugee households appeared more likely to resort to borrowing than their non-Syrian peers. Given the importance of debt as a coping mechanism for UNHCR’s population of concern, it is recommended that UNHCR continue to work towards the financial inclusion of, and access to credit for, its population of concern. The rising use of mobile wallets for cash distribution is an important first step here, but there is a need to raise awareness on the benefits of the use of digital cash (rather than simply withdrawing), as well as continuing efforts to promote digital cash among FSPs and supporting the government in strengthening the digital finance ecosystem.
4. Cash assistance contributes to urban refugees’ living conditions
The contributions of UNHCR’s basic needs cash assistance to the living conditions of urban refugees are clear. Although the cash does not appear to be a solution to all problems, reportedly failing to have an impact on access to livelihoods opportunities and health in particular, it is found by almost all respondents to improve their quality of life and reduce feelings of stress. Nonetheless, nine respondents out of ten continued to be concerned about the future of their household. Negative unintended consequences are not apparent in the data: The overwhelming majority of respondents note that their relations with the host community was good, and indeed for some was better thanks to the assistance. Close to one in five of the interviewed refugees agreed that their relationship with the local population had changed since they started receiving cash assistance, but only 6% note that the impact had been negative. This suggests that there are indirect benefits of the cash assistance to the Jordanian host population.
5. Service delivery has remained efficient despite challenging circumstances
Service delivery remained efficient in 2020, although accessing the locations of withdrawal was sometimes difficult for the population of concern, especially outside of Amman. Most respondents received the assistance on the day they were expecting it, but exceptions were more common in 2020 than one year prior: 17% of interviewees did not receive the cash on the day they were expecting it, compared to 6% in 2019. Beneficiaries facing difficulties using the ATM decreased slightly from 2019. Like in past years, the most common difficulty remained multiple attempts to scan the eye on the iris scanner. Over half respondents reported that it took them from four to seven attempts for iris scanning authentication to withdraw assistance. Two-thirds of the respondents did not need help to withdraw the cash. Travel time to withdrawal points increased significantly since last year, likely a result of COVID-19 related movement restrictions. UNHCR’s helpline remains universally well-known, albeit slightly harder to reach than in previous years (likely due to increased demand for COVID-19 emergency assistance).
6. Awareness raising is needed on the benefits of iris authentication
While biometric authentication remains the safest mechanism against fraud, this is not necessarily appreciated by a beneficiary population eager to have the flexibility of appointing an alternative cash collector as needed. Further communication on the benefits of iris authentication and on the options available for those who are not able to withdraw the cash in a given month would fill an awareness gap among the iris-scanning cash recipients. When asked concretely about safety aspects of a given withdrawal type, some 40% of respondents agreed that iris scans were the best options. Over half maintained that using an ATM card would be safer.
7. UNHCR remains at the forefront of innovation in cash delivery in Jordan, with an extensive learning agenda
In 2021, it is recommended that the operation proceed with a review of the logframe and monitoring framework of the urban basic needs cash operation. It is also recommended to add a panel study component to the PDM exercise (tracking the same cash recipients over time). In a context where self-reliance in exile and improved livelihoods prospects are of relevance for a significant share of those in seeking asylum in Jordan, the cash programme would benefit from data-driven insights pertaining to the pathways via which cash recipients’ lives evolve in Jordan over time and may eventually allow them to thrive without the cash assistance.