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Case Study

Cash-based Response Feasibility Assessment in Northern Syria

2016 — By Shannon Doocy, Hannah Tappis, Emily Lyles

As the conflict in Syria extends beyond the fourth year, there is need for a widespread humanitarian response focused on urban areas that addresses humanitarian needs and promotes resilience for the 13.5 million people in need of protection and humanitarian assistance within Syria. The majority of humanitarian assistance both in Syria and worldwide is provided as in-kind aid. However, over the past decade a transition has occurred and cash-based approaches, including both conditional and unconditional cash-transfers and voucher programs, are becoming increasingly common. The cash-based response within Syria to date is small when compared to in-kind assistance and geographic coverage has been somewhat limited.

In light of the significant challenges to providing assistance in Syria, there is a need to shift the programming focus towards sourcing assistance from within Syria rather than importing in-kind assistance; interventions to support job creation, rehabilitation of industry and local markets; and empowering beneficiaries by responding to their feedback on which type of assistance is preferred. Provision of in-kind aid has been subject to security and logistical constraints, which challenges the assumption that it is the most secure and reliable modality in the Syrian context. While the majority of assistance to date has been delivered in-kind, there is widespread interest in expanding the use of cash-based approaches. Perhaps the most significant challenge in implementing cash-based responses in Syria is the lack of a functional electronic bank system or regulated cash transfer system for movement of funds into the country; currently many use informal “value transfer” or hawala networks to transfer funds, which poses legal and other concerns.

This study explores the feasibility of cash-based assistance modalities and beneficiary preferences with the aim of informing future humanitarian assistance delivery strategies in Syria.