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The introduction of the Global Distribution Tool in Mbera camp, Mauritania

By Viola Eleonora Bruttomesso

UNHCR uses biometrics to identify refugees as part of the distribution process in Mauritania. © Viola Eleonora Bruttomesso

In Mauritania, in the Sahel region of West Africa, technology is changing the life of more than 56,000 Malian refugees registered in Mbera camp.

Fatma is one of them. She settled in 2012 in Mbera camp with her family of nine when the conflict in Northern Mali blasted. Every month since her arrival, Fatma goes to the General Food and Cash Distribution, also known with the French acronym DGV (Distribution General de Vivres).

She arrives around ten and sits under the hangar, waiting for her turn outside the distribution centre 4. The place is full of people patiently waiting. They know their turn will come soon as since a new system, the Global distribution tool (GDT), was put in place in August 2018 the process is quicker.

Thanks to the GDT, UNHCR is now using biometrics to improve the assistance process by quickly and accurately verifying refugee during distribution. It reduces fraud, improves knowledge on who has collected assistance and what has been distributed and speeds up the overall process for refugees.

Zahra recollects food and cash rations for herself and her three family members. © Viola Eleonora Bruttomesso

Mohamed, a staff from the Commissariat à la Sécurité Alimentaire (CSA), UNHCR and WFP partner responsible for the biometrical screening, finally calls Fatma to the desk and asks her to put her fingers on the machine. Following this simple step, her pictures and all the data related to her family appear on Mohamed’s laptop. In 5 seconds, her biometric data is recognized, and she can proceed to the next steps.

Entering the distribution centre, Fatma goes to the desk where Aminetou, an employee from Bank El-Amana, is ready to give Fatma the envelope containing the amount of cash she and her family are entitled to. UNHCR has partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the local bank to expand its cash assistance so that refugees like Fatma can support themselves with dignity, prioritizing and choosing what they need from local markets.

While Fatma counts the money, she is already thinking about how to spend it: buying something at the weekly market in the camp, paying some debts, and trying to meet all the family needs for this month. With a blue fingerprint, she signs the bank list to certify she has received the money.

The rest of the process goes smoothly. After checking the size of her family on her refugee card at every stage, CSA employees give Fatma the oil, soap and rice rations she is entitled to this month. She is now ready to take off. Her last stop is at the checkout point where an employee scans her refugee card with an app on a mobile phone. She is good to go. In total, it took less than 15 minutes for the whole process and she now can go back home to her family.

‘The old system was slower and tiring. We had to wait for too long’ sums up Fatma ‘With the new system the distribution goes faster’.

Since 2013, UNHCR Field Associate Officer Ibrahima Kane has been the DGV focal point. Ibrahima saw the food distribution process evolves and changes the lives of thousands of refugees.

“Before the introduction of the Global Distribution Tool in August 2018, the identification of the beneficiary was made though looking at the person picture on her/his refugee cards which took a lot of time. Now, thanks to the GDT, the process is faster and way more accurate” says Ibrahima.

The introduction of GDT has enabled UNHCR in Mauritania to improve its monitoring and verification of distribution processes.In partnership with World Vision, UNHCR protection partner, a referral mechanism as also been put in place to determine ‘on the spot’ if a child under 16 years old can collect the ration on behalf of their families.

Mauritania is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to deploy the GDT, currently used in 8 countries globally. The tool is part of PRIMES, UNHCR suite of applications aimed at enhancing the capacity of the UN Refugee Agency and partners to protect and assist refugees and other displaced populations.