The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 42.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee from their homes due to conflict, natural disasters or persecution. Much of these are from the geography I oversee; Asia Pacific, Central Europe, Middle East & Africa. As the world comes together on June 20 to recognize World Refugee Day, the occasion serves to raise awareness about the hardships these displaced persons endure and reminds us of the importance of extending relief to them.
While great strides have been made in delivering much-needed assistance to displaced persons since the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees entered into force in 1954, relief and assistance to refugees still largely come in the form of food and supplies. While these forms of aid provide valuable assistance that can make a world of difference, they can also be expensive to transport, inefficient and ineffective. For example, food and other supplies may be prone to spoilage or theft, and may go unused and wasted if donated supplies do not meet the needs of the local environment. In places prone to corruption, relief in the form of cash may never reach those in need.
Today, evolutions in technology are enabling new industries, such as electronic payment systems, to play a vital and complementary role to the work that aid agencies, governments and civil groups do to disburse supplies and assistance.
Electronic payment network operators, such as Visa, have been working alongside governments, NGOs and others to improve and streamline the delivery of aid through electronic payment products. This not only makes the delivery of aid instantaneous and secure, but also extends access to basic financial services to those in need. As such products can be linked to a bank account at a licensed financial institution, this is often the first opportunity for many people to be included in the formal financial system.
For instance, in Pakistan, the National Identity Agency of Pakistan, United Bank Limited and Visa teamed up to distribute badly needed aid to families fleeing their homes after fighting broke out in the country’s Northwest Frontier Province. The partners distributed aid on Visa prepaid cards, each loaded with 25,000 rupees (US$300), and installed terminals in local businesses to accept payment cards and connect them to the global payments network. These terminals helped displaced persons use their preloaded prepaid cards to buy much-needed food, medicine and other essential supplies from local merchants, and gave these businesses the opportunity to participate in the global economy. As a result of the program, more than 270,000 new bank accounts were created, offering otherwise excluded citizens access to secure and reliable financial services.
In July 2011, flooding devastated the Philippine island of Mindanao, the second largest island in the country. More than 120,000 families and 7,000 acres of crops were affected. Visa, together with Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) member Action Against Hunger/ACF International and Philippine Veterans Bank, delivered a voucher program using Visa prepaid cards to affected families. The beneficiaries used the cards to purchase food and supplies at supermarkets in the area. The program rolled out in eight days, and two monthly fund transfers were made to the recipients via the prepaid cards, helping to automate the disbursement process and alleviate the burden on the families.
As we come together on World Refugee Day to reflect upon the importance of extending relief to people displaced from their homes due to conflict, natural disasters or persecution, we are encouraged by innovative solutions that can help bring greater transparency and efficiency to aid distribution. These have the power to provide displaced persons with the dignity and flexibility to obtain the supplies and assistance relevant to their needs, and stimulate the local economy. As we survey the realm of possibilities, Visa, for one, is excited about the opportunities ahead to better serve those in need.
Posted by: Erin Steinhauer, Corporate Relations, APCEMA on June 20, 2013 at 10:10 am