This report presents the results of the 2021 annual Post-Distribution Monitoring (PDM) exercise of UNHCR’s urban basic needs cash assistance programme in Jordan. Through an automated teller machine (ATM) banking network equipped with iris scan technology, as well as, increasingly, mobile wallet technology, the agency disburses approximately 5.5 million USD per month to over 33,000 vulnerable refugee families across the country. UNHCR Jordan’s population of concern consists mainly (90+%) of Syrian refugees, but the organization also assists approximately 3,000 refugee families from other countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Assistance is designed to allow refugees who reside outside the camps in urban environments throughout Jordan to meet their basic needs and reduce their susceptibility to protection risks.
The results of this monitoring exercise suggest that, as intended and has been the case continuously over the past years, a majority of respondents use the cash to meet their running essential household needs. This spending is primarily put toward rent and food, and to a lesser extent, utilities, health, debt repayment and transport costs. The percentage of respondents spending their cash on food has steadily increased since 2018. Different governorates exhibit distinct cash expenditure patterns; with Amman and Zarqa appearing to be considerably more expensive environments. 14% of non-Syrian and 7% of Syrian respondents interviewed for this exercise reported using cash to reduce debt. Across all respondents, national origin notwithstanding, this figure amounted to 10%. This change represents a 6% increase from 4% across all respondents in 2020. This uptick year-over-year is perhaps a testament to the increased challenges brought by 2020 and 2021.
Through regular post-distribution monitoring, UNHCR aims to monitor the degree to which basic needs cash recipients rely on negative coping strategies. We find that negative coping mechanisms remain ever-present though many are at they are at their lowest level since 2018. Non-Syrian refugees scoring more poorly than their Syrian counterparts on the weighted reduced Livelihoods Coping Strategy Index (rCSI) has been consistent throughout the past four years. However, an encouraging takeaway from the 2021 data is the first instance of a substantial dip in rCSI scores to 15.5 for non-Syrian refugees and 13.4 for Syrian refugees interviewed for this study. This is a promising development as it reverses the upward trend that began in late-2019 by a significant margin. But vigilance must be maintained as the proportion of respondents who reported having engaged in exploitative labour rose exponentially from below 2% in 2020 to 15% (for Syrian respondents) and 11% (for non Syrian respondents).
Another coping mechanism for many refugee households in Jordan is debt. The proportion of cash recipients interviewed for this study who hold debt remains constant at around 89%, which may point to continued difficulties in meeting household needs with the available sources of revenue. While Syrian refugee households were more likely to have resorted to borrowing in the 30-days prior to the survey, their overall level of debt and associated worry were lower. Given the importance of debt as a coping mechanism for UNHCR’s population of concern, it is recommended that UNCHR continue to work towards the financial inclusion of, and access to credit for, its population of concern.
The contributions of UNCHR’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 a meaningful impact on access to livelihoods opportunities and health, it is identified by almost all respondents as improving their quality of life and reducing feelings of stress. Nonetheless, nine respondents out of ten continued to be concerned about the future of their household.
The feedback on service delivery is generally positive. 72% of Syrian respondents and 65% of non-Syrian respondents interviewed received the assistance on the day they were expecting it, with those that did not citing a lack of information on scheduling, or delays in cash provision. 12% of Syrians and 18% of non-Syrians, respectively, noted facing poor service at banks. This is a marked improvement from mid-2020, when only 45% of respondents felt that CAB staff treated them with respect.
As was the case in prior years, beneficiaries cited the many iris scan attempts and out-of-service ATMs as the most common difficulty faced when withdrawing assistance. While biometric identification 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.
Travel time to the location where cash assistance was spent seems to have recovered from high levels last year, with the majority of respondents able to reach the spending location in under 15 minutes. Awareness of UNHCR’s helpline and the services it provides remains universally well-known, with 70% of Syrian and 78% of non-Syrian respondents having availed of the UNHCR helpline or office helpdesk. This is coupled with a commensurately high level of satisfaction with the Organization’s response to their inquiry.
UNHCR Jordan remains at the forefront of innovation in cash delivery, and its learning agenda is extensive. In 2022, it is recommended that the operation add a panel study component to the PDM exercise. This might take the shape of household diaries collected for selected beneficiaries in person, and / or via mobile apps presenting a gamut of detailed questions (for instance on spending) at regular intervals. In a context where durable solutions and local integration are of relevance for a significant share of those displaced in Jordan, the cash programme would benefit from data-driven insights pertaining to the pathways via which cash recipients’ lives evolve in exile over time and may eventually allow them to thrive without the cash assistance.