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Cash assistance in Lebanon: Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP): Research report on AAP in the World Food Programme’s multi-purpose cash programme

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By Gabrielle Smith

Executive summary

The international humanitarian response to the devastating Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon has grown steadily since 2011 and, today, cash and voucher assistance (CVA) comprises over a third of this assistance. The World Food Programme (WFP) started implementation of its multi-purpose cash (MPC) programme in late 2017, providing assistance for 23,000 severely vulnerable Syrian refugee households. The MPC assistance is delivered through joint delivery systems shared with other actors, including UNHCR and UNICEF.

There is a need to generate evidence on how CVA innovations and operational models are working in practice, including from the perspective of recipients. This report presents research into factors affecting accountability to affected populations (AAP) in relation to WFP’s Lebanon MPC programme to contribute to strengthening the programme, as well as wider sectoral learning on AAP of cash assistance delivered at scale.

Employing a mixed method approach of desk reviews, stakeholder consultations, and analysis of primary and secondary data, this research set out to answer three key questions:

  1. Through the lens of WFP, how does a large-scale MPC programme deliver AAP?
  2. How do the accountability mechanisms within the programme deliver protection mainstreaming
  3. How do accountability and protection mainstreaming within the programme compare to relevant global benchmarks/ best practices?

There is no definitive global benchmark regarding AAP commitments in CVAs and an absence of global guidance tailored to large-scale cash delivery. This research builds on the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Principals’ commitments and the Core Humanitarian Standards through the consideration of agency and programme-specific guidance, as well as lessons from implementing accountability mechanisms on large-scale humanitarian CVA and social protection programmes.

Seen within the specific operating context for WFP’s MPC programme in Lebanon, research and analysis revealed a number of important findings.

Leadership: WFP is making demonstrable investments to build its AAP capacity in line with international best practices, which have potential to add value to the MPC programme for the benefit of WFP and those it aims to serve. Donor support is also vital to ensure commitment to AAP.

Communication with communities: SMS is the primary and most effective channel for disseminating core information to communities, and SMS messages are generally well understood by the target group. The main challenge for communities is the gaps in information provided, in particular on programme duration targeting, neither of which have been pro-actively communicated.

Complaints and feedback mechanism: The call centre is widely used, and its existence is appreciated. However, refugees face difficulties in accessing the call centre due to call costs and perceived long wait times, and satisfaction with responsiveness varies depending on the issue. Other face-to-face complaints and feedback channels exist but are not fully functional or consistently communicated to communities.

Participation: Limited opportunities for face-to-face interaction can contribute to feelings of disempowerment and dissatisfaction among refugees.

Protection mainstreaming: Recipients face some difficulties in accessing their cash transfers through ATMs, but are employing a range of strategies to effectively manage these issues. There is some evidence of protection risks for recipients, especially those relying on third parties for withdrawals, including risks of coercion and exploitation by others in the community, including landlords and shopkeepers.

Coordination: The limitations in the current data sharing between UNHCR, which manages the call centre, and WFP curtails WFP’s access to programme data, and means call centre data is not being used to its full potential to inform programme design. Cooperating partners, as the main interface with communities, can add value to AAP efforts if effectively included in strategic programme management discussions and decision-making.

This report concludes with a number of recommendations to complement AAP related investments and initiatives already underway, including these key recommendations:

  • Provide top line information on MPC targeting at the same time that beneficiaries are now (since March 2019) informed about the duration of assistance, highlighting that limitation in funds means not all eligible households can be supported.

  • Reduce costs associated with accessing the call centre, such as promoting the existence of the call back facility.

  • Follow up with call centre callers to close the loop, even when issues cannot be effectively resolved.

  • Collaborate with the ‘hotspot’ bank branches on crowd control, allowing oversight of protection issues.

  • Continue to develop and expand the use of refugee advisory groups as a channel for community participation, and invest in communicating their existence and their role to communities.

  • Improve beneficiary confidence in managing transactions through practical demonstrations of ATM use to reduce reliance on third parties.

  • Systematically capture refugee issues and feedback shared with NGOs.

  • Prioritise the establishment of data sharing agreement between UNHCR and WFP for greater oversight of data on WFP MPC recipients, including information collected through the call centre.

  • Further investment in face-to-face channels, and outreach and qualitative monitoring capacities.