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Digital Cards Improve Food Assistance to Syrian Refugees in Iraq

Syrian refugees crowd around an office in Domiz refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Photo: OCHA

Syrian refugees crowd around an office in Domiz refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Photo: OCHA

Thousands of displaced Iraqi families and Syrian refugees across Iraq now have better and flexible access to food, thanks to an innovative digital cash card launched by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

“This programme is a turning point in WFP’s food assistance operations in Iraq,” said Jane Pearce, country director of WFP in Iraq, adding that “we now use innovative technology to deliver a faster humanitarian response that is reliable, flexible and scalable.”

These electronic cards, known as SCOPE cards, enable WFP to assist in a timely manner those in need with both cash and vouchers, allowing them to choose, and buy their own food from local shops across the country, as well as collecting actual food from WFP distribution points.

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“The SCOPE cards give displaced Iraqi families and Syrian refugees the assurance that they can access food when they need it,” said Ms. Pearce, adding that more importantly, “it also gives WFP valuable feedback on the types of food people are buying with the cards, which helps us better tailor our programmes to their needs.”

In order to receive the SCOPE cards, people need to register their personal information and fingerprints into WFP’s database, which is electronically linked to the cards.

Therefore, when a card is swiped at a shop, it automatically connects to the database for identity confirmation, then the cost of the purchase is deducted from the total balance and recorded on a receipt.

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With the $32 million funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), WFP has launched a pilot project in Akre, in the northern Kurdish region, where thousands of displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees are sheltering.

The conflict in Iraq has triggered mass waves of displacement of more than 3 million Iraqis since January 2014. WFP is currently reaching 1.5 million displaced Iraqis and 70,000 Syrian refugees each month with food assistance.

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