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Syria: Where phones stop families going hungry

In war-ravaged northern Syria, we’re using vouchers and mobile phones to make sure people have the food they need.

Inside a shop in Syria. Credit: Concern

The nature of Syria’s conflict means that even away from the front lines, there is danger from bombs and suicide attacks. After five years of war, people are finding it hard to put food on the table for their families.

This violence and disruption is the reason we are working in Syria. It is the reason that right now, more than 13 million people inside the country need urgent help to get essentials like bread, water and medicine. So what happens when a sudden change puts our supply lines at risk?

Voucher system feeds thousands of households

In the past, we have trucked food into Northern Syria. But earlier this year the border was closed due to increased fighting inside Syria, making it impossible to send lorries along this vital route. So our team came up with a new plan to provide food for the communities caught up in the violence.

We have started giving paper food vouchers to the most vulnerable people we’re helping. Those who qualify might be families in need, older people, or people with disabilities.

They can then use these vouchers at local shops. Shopkeepers scan the vouchers with their phones, and are later paid for the goods by us. Inside a shop in Syria. Credit: Concern

Our manager explains: “It took us quite a long time to convince shopkeepers to take part in the project, which means giving people credit. Shopkeepers get paid when the vouchers are returned to us. We plan to be reaching 5,000 households with £50 a month by August. This will help those households meet their basic living needs.”

We’ve got as many shopkeepers as possible taking part in the scheme – this cuts the risk of a few raising their prices and exploiting the voucher holders. The fact the vouchers can be ‘tracked’ electronically also helps protect against abuse.

More ways to help

This scheme can’t work everywhere. So we are still buying some food in Syria ourselves to distribute to families in need in rural areas.

And we don’t just help people put food on the table. Inside Syria, we’re also working to pipe drinking water, and cut the threat of disease by repairing sewage systems and cleaning up rubbish. We’re also supporting thousands of refugees from the conflict who have fled to Turkey and Lebanon.

The needs in Syria remain huge – but Concern will keep adapting to make sure as much help as possible gets through to people who are in great need of support.

Please donate to our Syria appeal