@Steffen Kugler


Written by: Alice Riche (WFP), Aline Coudouel (World Bank), Ana Ocampo (WFP), Catherine Chazaly (WFP) and Paul Quarles van Ufford (UNICEF)


The Global Forum on Adaptive Social Protection, hosted by BMZ and the World Bank in June 2023 in Berlin, brought together over 300 participants from around the world to discuss way to develop, strengthen and expand Adaptive Social Protection (ASP) in diverse contexts. The Sahel’s experience with ASP as a preventing and protecting mechanism against crises stood out throughout the forum. The Global Forum was followed by an event dedicated to ASP in the Sahel, the ‘Sahel Day’, which provided an opportunity for participants from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal to discuss how to advance the ASP agenda in the region. Organized by WFP, in collaboration with the World Bank and UNICEF, and with the support of GIZ and BMZ, it brought together 55 participants including government representatives, technical partners, and donors.

The Sahel, spanning several countries in West Africa, is burdened with multiple, overlapping and ever-growing crises—climate change and shocks, widespread food insecurity and malnutrition, armed conflicts, forced displacement and the impact of global economic shocks—placing immense strain on its already impoverished population.

Since the drought events of the 1970s, governments and their partners have focused their efforts on seasonal responses and on agricultural development. From 2010 onwards, the escalation of conflicts and impacts of climate change have led to the scale-up of humanitarian assistance and shock and seasonal responses more generally. The depth and complexity of the Sahel crisis also inspired innovative approaches and partnerships. To tackle the multilayered challenges in the region, Governments have sought to strengthen the adaptive (or shock-responsive) dimension of their social protection systems with the joint support of their national, regional and international partners. The Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Program (SASPP) managed by the World Bank has been accompanying these efforts since 2014. The objective is to leverage social safety nets to strengthen people’s resilience to shocks (on the long term) and also expand them in response to a specific shock. This requires strong linkages with disaster risk management and humanitarian actors and responses to optimize the contribution of social protection in preventing and responding to the impact of shocks and crises (instead of predominantly relying on shorter-term humanitarian responses).

Furthermore, there is strong interest in the Sahel to use ASP as a critical tool for climate change adaptation. For instance, Niger has been looking into early warning systems linked to pre-arranged financing, as indicated by His Excellency Ibrahim Boukary, the Minister of Employment, Labor, and Social Protection in Niger during the first plenary of the Global Forum. This would help to trigger responses before shocks hit. ASP can also foster inclusive development and strengthened social cohesion – in a region that is particularly fragilized by conflict. For example, Burkina Faso has successfully integrated internally displaced people into its safety net programme, and Mauritania has integrated refugees into its social protection programme.

One of the Forum sessions delved into the insights and lessons learned on institutional arrangements and partnerships in the Sahel. Panelists, including representatives from Niger’s Social Safety Nets Unit (CFS) and Mauritania’s Social Registry, the World Bank, WFP and ECOWAS, discussed challenges to coordination and collaboration among various stakeholders. Important lessons have already been learned on how governments have demonstrated strong leadership to enable internal and intersectoral coordination and how partners have aligned behind this objective. The social registry in Mauritania, for instance, is now used by 25 different government and partners’ programmes, and thus represents a key tool to effectively coordinate interventions, including shock responses.  In Niger, national response plans now integrate social protection interventions also building on existing safety nets to ensure wider coverage of vulnerable people in the aftermath of shocks. Along the same line, the twin-track approach implemented by WFP and UNICEF, with financial support from KfW/BMZ, provides a flexible operational approach to support the government’s social protection response, ensuring people can be reached even in areas that government can’t access or where it lacks capacity. However, while there is a good amount of progress, challenges remain to coordinate and strike the right balance between short-term emergency and humanitarian responses to shocks and long-term interventions that foster resilience and address chronic vulnerabilities. More coordination and alignment among partners in support of government leadership is needed. This will take more coalitions and joint programming, and relinquishing visibility in favor of government ownership. The prioritization of adaptive social protection by the Alliance Sahel is a positive sign in that direction.

During the Sahel Day participants agreed on the need to adopt comprehensive and integrated approaches, based on strong evidence and to keep exchanging different country experiences. They highlighted new and innovative approaches they would like to explore using recent technologies, financing, and programmatic options. They also acknowledged the inclusive and transformative nature of ASP.

Four thematic areas particularly relevant to the region were discussed:

  • Tackling the drivers of food insecurity and responding to acute needs: rethinking lean season assistance.

In the Sahel region, agricultural lean seasons (roughly between June and September) often lead to acute food insecurity and malnutrition. In the region, governments and their partners are particularly looking at using social protection systems to better respond to seasonal predictable needs. Participants emphasized the importance of expanding regular social safety nets, in particular as multi-year cash transfers, as to prevent food insecurity and to build human and productive capital to strengthen the resilience of the vulnerable households. In addition, to respond to seasonal or acute needs, social safety nets can be leveraged to respond more effectively and efficiently, for instance if combined with anticipatory responses and integrated disaster risk financing. Governments and their partners agree they cannot rely solely on humanitarian responses which are not set up to address chronic vulnerability and deep poverty. Moving away from traditional responses to address the current complex needs is urgent. 

  • Social protection and forced displacement: strengthening social cohesion.

Conflict, insecurity and shocks have led to unprecedented and massive population displacements in the region. The Sahel region currently hosts millions of forcibly displaced people, including 1.1 million refugees and 3.1 million internally displaced people [1]. Forced displacement has put a considerable strain on host communities, which already face high levels of poverty. While governments in the region acknowledge the rights of the forcibly displaced to social protection, integrating them into their social protection systems is challenging. Participants discussed the specific challenges in addressing the social protection needs of the forcibly displaced starting by identifying and registering them and understanding and addressing their specific needs. They agreed on the need to provide support to both displaced and host communities and to foster social cohesion. They discussed collaborating on displacement-sensitive social protection strategies based on emerging experiences in the region (Mauritania, Burkina Faso) and beyond, as well as reinforcing cross-border and regional approaches to better integrate support for IDPs, refugees and their host communities.

  • Towards sustainable financing of social protection, including in response to shocks and crises.

 While external assistance remains critical in this period of high needs and given the continued low coverage of safety net programmes in the Sahel, the participants in this discussion highlighted the prime role of the State in social protection financing. Stepping up domestic investments and ensuring sustainable financing for ASP is therefore a pressing priority. Despite a challenging fiscal context, opportunities exist. Participants in the Sahel Day identified various financing opportunities, including increasing government revenue, reallocating expenditures, including from subsidies on fuel or electricity, and capitalizing on non-conventional sources such as climate finance and debt restructuring. Governments are eager to explore establishing finance mechanisms for responding to shocks and disasters (insurances, contingency budgets). They look for support to embed risk management more strongly in their public finance systems. Developing comprehensive finance strategies and enhancing spending capacity were emphasized as crucial steps to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 1.3 [2].

During the session, Mauritania and Senegal shared their experiences with financing social protection from domestic resources. Senegal presented experience on reallocating resources from subsidies, while Mauritania highlighted the significance of political commitment to social protection and explained how it was an important issue during election periods.

  • Building flexible social registries in the Sahel: a key to operationalising ASP systems.

Every country in the Sahel region is investing in social registries, which will serve as gateways for the inclusion of beneficiaries in various social and humanitarian programs. However, challenges like costs, interoperability, and currency of data remain relevant. Session participants shared recent lessons learned, good practices, and opportunities in the region, such as linking registries with payment systems and other delivery systems (as is happening in Mauritania) and using technology to expand coverage.

During the Global Forum and Sahel Day, the governments of the Sahel championed the transformative potential of ASP to effectively address chronic vulnerability and the increasing impact of shocks. To maximize the potential of ASP, governments and their partners are calling to:

  • set-up and expand national safety net programmes, to provide regular, long-term support to vulnerable households, based on predictable and sustainable financing,
  • further enhance adaptive and inclusive design of safety nets,
  • expand inclusive and dynamic registries that can cater to a range of programs,
  • nurture strong connections between humanitarian and emergency responses and routine social protection programs.

By prioritizing comprehensive approaches, innovative solutions, and intersectoral coordination, ASP holds the promise of supporting the most vulnerable people across the Sahel region and ushering in sustainable development and resilience.


[1] Sahel situation | Global Focus (unhcr.org)

[2] Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable


Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Social insurance
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Adaptive social protection
  • Shock-responsive social protection
  • Burkina Faso
  • Chad
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Niger
  • Senegal
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's