Interpretations and Use of Voucher-based Refugee Relief Assistance

Funded by: US Department of State Country: Kenya, Bangladesh, Egypt Date Range: 2016-2017 Project Lead: Department of Anthropology Notre Dame Collaborators: Pulte Institute

Various nations in Africa and the Middle East have experienced widespread unrest, civil wars, and political instability over the past four decades, resulting in millions of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). Rampant and chronic food insecurity ensues due to the economic burden placed on the host communities.

With the increasing number of refugees, unreliable delivery, and chronic food insecurity, local host communities can no longer maintain these traditional methods of providing food aid. Many relief agencies have launched voucher assistance programs to address various needs; the intention of vouchers is to reduce refugee indebtedness to shop owners and prevent reselling relief food into the black market. Some studies, however, suggest these vouchers (as well as e-vouchers) are often used in unintended or unauthorized ways, leading some to discourage or prohibit their use.

Mainstream monitoring and evaluation efforts have proven futile, given the lack of access to data on daily behaviors and practices. Dr. Rahul Oka, Ford Family Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and his team used ethnographic methods to uncover complexities and elicit data to enable the measurement of diversion in refugee and IDP camps in three regions: Kakuma, Kenya; Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh; and Cairo, Egypt.

The team's first objective was to conduct research to understand the complexities of voucher diversion and develop a tool kit to measure the extent of voucher diversion. They then coordinated with relief organizations to inform programs and policies based on research findings. Finally, team broadly disseminated their findings using cutting edge media platforms and publications to inform programs and policies.


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