Do cash transfers reduce negative coping strategies among Syrian refugees?

This project looked at the impact of the UNHCR’s ‘Tier 1’ cash transfers on negative coping mechanisms of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Project team members

These transfers are targeted to the poorest refugee households. Their aim is to increase the ability of recipient households to procure basic necessities, such as food, shelter and medicine, without resorting to negative coping mechanisms, like withdrawing children from school, not seeking health care, child labour or incurring unsustainable levels of debt.

We were commissioned by the UNHCR to assess the extent to which the transfers achieved this aim. Our assessment was based on qualitative interviews and quantitative data analysis, and shows that the transfers are associated with small, but positive, outcomes at the household level.


In 2015 the Syrian refugee crisis entered its fifth year. As of August 2015, just over four million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, and the UNHCR called it the ‘worst refugee crisis in recent history’.

Over 150 organisations are working to alleviate the crisis, with UNHCR coordinating the overall relief effort. The response is considerably underfunded, however, so there is a dire need to channel the available money into effective programmes. Our evaluation examines factors associated with the success of cash transfers, and provides recommendations for how to improve it in the coming months and years.

Our approach

The OPM team used a mixed methods approach to evaluate the transfer. Quantitative data from UNHCR, alongside qualitative interviews conducted by the team, provided the information to be analysed.

Our theory of change mapped the risk pathway from a shock to a negative coping mechanism. Negative coping mechanisms then follow on from shocks if household cash constraints mean that basic needs cannot be met using positive ways of coping, such as temporarily increasing household labour supply or using social support networks. The intended aim of transfers is to alleviate the household cash constraint, which should lead to a reduction in negative coping mechanisms.

Specific services provided by OPM included:

  • Development of a conceptual framework for the study, focusing on the risk pathway from risk factors to negative coping strategies
  • Desk review of UNHCR quantitative data
  • In-depth qualitative interviews in all three study countries
  • Production and dissemination of the final report
  • Development of policy recommendations based on the evidence


Prior to the completion of this project, UNHCR had limited evidence on factors associated with their cash transfers. They can now make decisions based on this improved evidence base, and clear policy options have been outlined to them. Our report also adds to the nascent global literature on cash transfers and negative coping mechanisms in humanitarian settings.

Over the longer-term, the application of our recommendations should help support the targeting and implementation of more effective cash transfers, but also help to understand their inherent limitations.

Areas of expertise