European Commission - SPaN (2019) Case Study: Iraq

The Iraq case study is part of the “Guidance Package on Social Protection across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus” (SPaN). It identifies opportunities to transition the chronically poor and vulberable from humanitarian assistance to national schemes.

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An ECHO-funded technical assistance facility, managed by the World Food Programme (WFP), aims to explore how social protection systems can be strengthened in fragile and forced displacement contexts, with a view to contributing to the global learning agenda on when and how these can be used to address humanitarian needs in a more cost-effective, efficient and predictable way. Short-term technical assistance has been provided to improve programme design or implementation in nine countries facing protracted crises1. Each assignment tackles a priority theme identified collectively by humanitarian and development partners, complementing and catalysing efforts by national governments and their partners to enhance the well-being of chronically poor or vulnerable populations, those affected by crises, those living in conflict situations and/or refugees. The assignments focus on linkages between humanitarian action and social protection: this includes the identification of good practices and recommendations for improved institutional coordination, knowledge transfer, and delivery systems such as information systems or payment mechanisms. Projects are designed and managed in country by a partnership of WFP, FAO, ECHO, UNICEF, DFID and World Bank representatives, in consultation with the government and other agencies according to the context. One partner serves as the lead in each country.  This case study summarises the technical assistance in Iraq by  mapping the major government safety net schemes and humanitarian transfer programmes operating in Iraq; and comparing design and implementation features including coverage, capacities, targeting criteria, and complementarity between schemes.

Experiences have generated lessons for actors seeking linkages between social protection and humanitarian action. Vested interests of operational agencies can reduce incentives to collaborate, create competing agendas for the direction of change, and constrain efforts to improve coordination of humanitarian action and social protection. There is a role for donors in incentivising collaboration and in funding actors in roles where they have a comparative advantage.  Initial short-term technical assistance can be useful, but to effect real change such collaboration between actors must be invested in over the medium to long term. It requires that country teams buy into the ‘global vision’ of their HQs, that agencies’ humanitarian teams can draw on expertise from their development and social protection counterparts, that relationships with government are nurtured, and that changes are complemented by capacity development.  Moreover, the analysis identified opportunities to consolidate schemes and improve coordination between the Iraqi social protection system and humanitarian programmes, taking into account constraints identified. The aim is to ensure that over time needs of the chronically poor and vulnerable are more sustainably and predictably met by government and humanitarian needs are addressed in a more efficient and predictable way.


There are opportunities to improve social protection for the chronically vulnerable, IDPs/returnees and households affected by shocks, by integrating and coordinating safety nets provided by government and humanitarian actors and gradually transitioning towards a multi-layered, government-led system. There is already a ‘core safety net’ upon which to build an integrated system of transfers: Effective safety net systems ‘layer’ programmes to address poverty and vulnerability throughout the lifecycle. Many include a core cash transfer programme for basic needs, complemented by additional programmes providing supplementary benefits to different groups. Reform of the SPN has established this as the core transfer programme in the Iraqi safety net system, to which poor and vulnerable households within the humanitarian caseload can progressively transition.  The SPN registration process can also provide the foundations for a future ‘social register’:

  • Eligibility for the SPN could lead to automatic qualification for additional transfers for lifecycle needs (e.g. child nutrition) or humanitarian needs at times of shock.
  • Those ineligible for the SPN would still be included in the growing ‘social register’ and assessment results could inform targeting of other programmes that aim to meet particular basic, lifecycle, or emergency needs, based on proxy means test (PMT) thresholds and indicator weightings relevant to programme objectives.
  • Those eligible for the SPN but not yet benefiting due to fiscal constraints could be targeted for temporary assistance by humanitarian agencies.


The study recommends actions to transition to an integrated national safety net system, to more efficiently and predictably address needs of vulnerable populations and enable humanitarian assistance to top up or to fill gaps:

  • Change to an open application process on the SPN, to increase its coverage and support development of a complete social registry; 
  • Transform the PDS to an electronic smart card to improve efficiency and allow access to nutritious food;
  • Initiate a system for IDPs to re-register for PDS rations and replace PDS cards;
  • Align targeting approaches with the SPN proxy means test, to generate efficiencies in identification of caseloads and eventual transfer of vulnerable caseloads to MoLSA;
  • Adapt PDS benefit levels to complement the SPN and build a ‘layered’ system to fill gaps. Increase the number of qualified social workers;
  • Engage in discussions on building a digital hub for data sharing between government programmes and between government and the humanitarian sector; 
  • Develop a common identification system for use across programmes; 
  • Humanitarian actors support collection and verification of household data for the SPNregistry; 
  • Address data privacy issues to enable data sharing.



The production of this case study was funded by the European Commission’s Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and implemented by WFP. This technical assistance consultancy was led by Lynn Brown, independent consultant. This country case study was drafted by Gabrielle Smith, independent consultant. WFP is indebted to the efforts of WFP Iraq and its country partners who supported this initiative:  Marianne Ward (WFP); Paul Schlunke (FAO); Liibaan Hussein Dahir (UNICEF); Simon Mansfield (ECHO); Heidi Carruba (DFID); Ramzi Neman (World Bank);and Andrew Mitchell (UNHCR). WFP also extends thanks to the SPIAC-B members (World Bank, DFID, ECHO, UNICEF, WFP, FAO) who acted as Technical Advisory Group to the TA Facility at global level.

Technical reports
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