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How a displacement crisis helped Jordan support its population during COVID-19

20 May 2020
Hygiene and cleaning kits

By Jacobus de Hoop, Angie Lee, Luisa Natali, Mays Albaddawi, Alexis Boncenne, Matthew McNaughton, Manuel Rodriguez Pumarol

At the beginning of 2020, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan entered the tenth year of a humanitarian crisis, providing refuge to over 650,000 Syrian refugees. But in the spring, another crisis hit which threatened not only the fragile livelihoods of these refugees, but the wellbeing of every person in Jordan—COVID-19. Jordan has implemented a strict nationwide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 crisis. While the restrictive containment measures have controlled the pandemic, they put those who depend on daily jobs at risk of falling into deep poverty. To prevent this, the Government of Jordan decided to provide emergency cash to 200,000 Jordanian daily wage workers who have lost their income as part of its COVID-19 response.

Read how the Hajati cash transfer programme in Jordan was

quickly expanded to support Syrian refugees during COVID-19

This response was not business as usual. Although the Government of Jordan and partners (like UNICEF) have provided cash to vulnerable people for years, these have not included “near poverty” informal workers. Furthermore, isolation policies and a strict curfew meant regular procedures for enrolling workers and paying cash transfers could not be used. With the experience and lessons learned from the Syria crisis, UNICEF worked with the Government of Jordan to develop alternative strategies to reach those most vulnerable.

UNICEF as a trusted partner on social protection

UNICEF is a well-established social protection partner in Jordan. In 2019, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Social Development in designing its National Social Protection Strategy.  With other agencies, including the World Bank and the World Food Programme, UNICEF implemented a technical working group to support the strengthening and expansion of the National Aid Fund (NAF). Prior research, such as the National Geographic Vulnerability Analysis and forthcoming research by UNICEF Innocenti on the role of cash transfers in the lives of vulnerable families, helped UNICEF Jordan establish itself as a thought leader on social protection in the country. Information systems had been developed by UNICEF to provide the NAF with the needed data for planning, design, implementation and monitoring of programmes.

Reaching out remotely

Through its Hajati cash transfer programme for vulnerable households, including Syrian refugees, UNICEF Jordan has built up extensive experience with RapidPro. Developed by UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, RapidPro can be used for two-way SMS and digital communication (e.g. WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger) to raise awareness, collect data, and monitor programme implementation. It is effective also in contexts with good cell-phone coverage, but limited use of smart phones. Forthcoming research by UNICEF Innocenti finds that communication through RapidPro is highly trusted in Jordan and recipients appreciate the opportunity to communicate directly with UNICEF. RapidPro proved to be essential to Jordan’s COVID-19 response. Using RapidPro , 200,000 new recipients of the emergency cash were reached quickly, remotely, and safely at no cost to recipients. RapidPro text messages confirmed the identification of the targeted recipients and determined whether they had an active mobile wallet. If needed, UNICEF provided instructions on how to open new mobile wallet without physically visiting a service provider. Through a constant exchange of data with the Central Bank of Jordan and mobile money companies, UNICEF monitored the rate at which mobile wallets were opened. RapidPro also enabled UNICEF and NAF to troubleshoot arising issues.

The remote approach worked

The results exceeded expectations. Out of the first batch of 100,000 daily workers, only 18,000 had an active mobile wallet. Five days after being contacted through RapidPro, this figure had grown to over 80,000. Although the second batch are still being contacted, fourteen days after starting the process, 188,000 workers had active mobile wallets and had already received the much-needed cash. NAF and UNICEF continue their efforts to reach the remaining 12,000 daily workers by coordinating with mobile money service providers and calling households. Although certain challenges were anticipated (such as phone coverage, literacy, and cost), these proved to be comparatively minor hurdles in this context.

Humanitarian and development work do not operate in silos

Jordan’s COVID-19 emergency cash response exemplifies how humanitarian and development work can reinforce and support each other. For the most efficient and timely emergency response, it is key to have flexible systems in place, such as RapidPro. Systems developed to respond to humanitarian crises and lessons learned from humanitarian responses can help build shock-responsive national social protection systems.   Mays Albaddawi and Alexis Boncenne are Programme Officers in UNICEF Jordan’s Social Protection section. Jacobus de Hoop is manager of humanitarian policy research at UNICEF Innocenti. Angie Lee is a Communications Specialist with UNICEF Innocenti. Luisa Natali is a Social Policy Specialist at the UNICEF Innocenti. Matthew McNaughton is Global Technology For Development Specialist in UNICEF's Information Communication and Technology Division. Manuel Rodriguez Pumarol is Chief of UNICEF Jordan’s Social Protection section. Discover our work on Social Protection in Humanitarian Settings