Joint UNICEF-WFP e-voucher partnership puts Gaza family needs first

Since 2014, the e-voucher programme has provided a total of 23,000 families with their choice of soap, detergent, toothpaste, cleaning solutions, diapers and other basic hygiene products

03 November 2016

By Charmaine Seitz

GAZA, State of Palestine, 3 November 2016 - When families are forced to rely on humanitarian assistance for long periods of time, the toll of poverty takes on an added dimension: the struggle to maintain dignity.
Eman’s husband is a farm labourer. Her family of seven cannot afford to buy all the hygiene items they need. She usually buys the cheapest cleaning powder and shampoo and soap in shops, when she can afford to.

Eman says she was ecstatic when she received a text message announcing that she would be able to redeem 200 NIS (about $50) worth of various household cleaning and personal care products at a local store as part of an ‘e-voucher’ programme run by the UN children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme (WFP) in the Gaza Strip.

The ground-breaking e-voucher partnership was launched by UNICEF and WFP during the 2014 hostilities; 78,000 displaced people in host communities, half of them children, received electronic vouchers which operate like debit cards, enabling them to purchase locally produced nutritious food, safe drinking water and sanitary products at local shops.

The programme is an example of UN agencies joining forces to better help answer the various needs of the most vulnerable families in the Gaza Strip in a coordinated manner, ensuring a more holistic humanitarian response. For instance, Eman and her family are also receiving monthly food assistance from WFP.

Following the ceasefire agreement, WFP and UNICEF, together with Oxfam GB, progressively scaled up the voucher programme to provide relief to the most vulnerable families. The focus became vulnerable families affected by the conflict, such as those who lost their livelihoods or who have not benefited from any other support.

Unemployment in the Gaza Strip stands almost at 42% and youth unemployment is even higher, leaving nearly two-thirds of youth without jobs. In the summer of 2014, 51 days of conflict wrought devastation on the area, destroying homes and businesses that had survived previous conflict.

Repeated conflict and nearly ten years of a crippling blockade have created persistent food insecurity in the Gaza Strip, where 46% of the households are food insecure, with nearly one in three at a severe level. Families are barely able to recover from previous shocks before new setbacks drive them more deeply into poverty.

With the additional funds loaded on a ‘Sahtein’ magnetic card she had previously received from WFP, Eman bought two three-kilogram packets of what she considered “good quality” detergent. Her eight-year-old son Mohammed helps her carry the purchases. He says today feels like a big shopping spree.
“I wish we could receive this voucher to buy hygiene products every six months,” Ayyad says wistfully, as she selects products from the grocer shelves.

Since 2014, the e-voucher programme has provided a total of 23,000 families with their choice of soap, detergent, toothpaste, cleaning solutions, diapers and other basic hygiene products. More than 8,000 school children have benefitted from 150 NIS in educational supplies such as school uniforms and shoes – while most schools are free in Gaza, the cost of books and uniforms sometimes keeps children at home.

“WFP is proud to lend its voucher platform and join forces with UNICEF to provide a comprehensive package of assistance to the most in need. Vouchers are adaptable to meet a wide range of people’s needs across different sectors, and support the local economy”, said Daniela Owen, WFP Country Director and representative in Palestine.

“Not only does this joint WFP-UNICEF programme contribute to improving beneficiaries’ health and psychosocial conditions and their right to education, but it also frees up their financial resources to be spent on other pressing needs,” says June Kunugi, UNICEF State of Palestine Special Representative.
The programme provides basic hygiene and educational needs, but allows recipients to set their own priorities.

Unlike aid packages that provided certain stock products without regard for a family’s individual needs, the e-voucher allows families to select from a list of goods until the voucher is spent.
Because the voucher is delivered by magnetic card, it has low overhead and is easily redeemed. The 73 local businesses that have been selected to provide hygiene items and/or food gain new foot traffic and a boost in revenue.

Japan and Spain have funded the most recent extensions of the hygiene component of the project.
Nafez AbdSalam said that his wife excitedly started writing a list for him after receiving the same SMS message as Eman. He always has trouble buying all the personal items that his family of nine requires. “I usually divide them up every week and prioritize the most important things.”

Today at the small grocery store, he picks out diapers to purchase with his e-voucher. They are always difficult to buy, Hanouna says, even though they are critical. “This voucher is enough to cover one-third of my [monthly] household expenses,” he says. “I am just so grateful to those who provided this assistance.”