Addressing the complex range of social and economic needs that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic requires social protection and humanitarian actors to work together. Actors in both areas have been drawn towards cash responses to ensure the needs of marginalized and at-risk groups are prioritised. This raises many potential questions about how to design and implement programmes to successfully link humanitarian cash and social protection responses. It is also important to discuss the lessons learned to ensure more coordinated and aligned responses in the future. The webinar that occurred on 17 September 2020, 'In conversation: linking humanitarian cash and social protection in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: successes and challenges in ensuring inclusive responses' focused on this topic. It gave us the opportunity to hear from those involved in responding to the crisis and the successes and challenges in ensuring inclusion, drawing from their experiences in the occupied Palestinian territories, Somalia, Syria and the Philippines.
The webinar was organised by the Grand Bargain Cash Sub-Group and moderated by Lois Austin, Knowledge Management and Learning Consultant. The speakers were Mr Guhad Adan, Independent Consultant; Ms. Najla Shawa, Food Security Manager at Oxfam; Ms Aimee Santos, Gender-based Violence Programme Officer at UNFPA; Ms Hala Darwish, Social Policy Officer at UNICEF; with Andrew Patterson, Knowledge Management and Learning Specialist at CARE USA, as a discussant. The webinar was structured as a conversation to encourage a fruitful and dynamic discussion. Each speaker provided a brief overview of their country's experiences and proceeded to answer questions from the audience.
The recording of the session is available here.
UNFPA - Philippines
Aimee Santos started the discussion by explaining that the UNFPA Philippines focuses its direct service projects on the southernmost island of the Philippine archipelago. This region has been engaged in armed conflict for the last 30 years and its population is mostly Muslim. These communities are often caught in situations of disaster and displacement.
In 2019 the Bangsamoro people pushed for regional sovereignty. They were able to establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region which now has a very young government beset with limited resources, competing leadership and erupting armed tensions. This situation further aggravated the issues in this region where populations were already affected by multiple and intersecting vulnerabilities due to their status as a religious minority, displacement and high levels of poverty.
The UNFPA aims to support this population's resilience and recovery by implementing several cash assistance programmes. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNFPA focused on addressing issues like sexual reproductive health and rights, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and establishing women-friendly spaces (WFS). As part of a Cash for Work programme, internally displaced women were trained to become GBV monitors and WFS facilitators. There is also a Cash for Health programme which incentivizes pregnant and lactating women to go to pre-natal check-ups and post-partum care and a Cash for Protection programme where unconditional cash grants are given to GBV survivors and people with severe psychosocial issues and needs.
Through these various programmes, the UNFPA has been able to support 3,500 women in the last quarter where difficulties have increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest issues created by the crisis for this community is the decreased mobility. In a recent assessment done by the organisation, women reported having difficulty with reduced freedom and ability to make a living and solve their own issues as a result of the pandemic.
Guhad Adan started his presentation by explaining that Somalia has been affected by three decades of conflict, violence, climatic and political crises which have led to unprecedented levels of internal and external displacement. In 2019 the Somali Government developed its first social protection policy and framework. This was a significant milestone for the country. The policy envisioned strengthening all components of existing social protection systems with actionable steps like, for example, developing a single registry and an ID card system. One of its main objectives is to progressively expand programmes and increase access to social assistance, especially cash transfers that support poor and vulnerable people including children, disabled and elderly people to improve their standard of living in line with the social protection floors. The policy also reflects a recognition by the government that there will be a need for cash plus interventions in order to address nutrition, health and education outcomes.
The government has already stated that it will aim to build on the humanitarian registration systems that already operate in the country. In Somalia, humanitarian cash transfer programmes at a scale are common. Local and international remittance systems are also present. The expertise and coordination mechanisms of the agencies and organisations that are currently involved in delivering those humanitarian cash transfers and resilience programmes will be extremely useful to the government as they implement a cohesive national social protection programme in Somalia.
Because the social protection systems in Somalia are new, there is still a lot of room for understanding and exploring how humanitarian cash will fit into responses. For example, although the government aims to build a single registry system in Somalia, Guhad Adan stated that it is uncertain whether it will be available to humanitarian agencies.
Syria - UNICEF
Syria has been facing a humanitarian crisis since 2011 and the national social protection systems are struggling to adapt to the increased needs of the population. This is partly a result of budget constraints. So, building on the national cash transfer programme for persons with disabilities already operated by the government, UNICEF introduced the innovative cash transfer programme for children with severe disabilities. According to Hala Darwish, this programme is innovative because it combined the integrated social protection schemes which provided cash transfers to the families of children with disabilities, addressing their economic vulnerabilities and the case management services that addressed the social vulnerabilities. Since 2016, the programme has reached over 24,000 children with disabilities and their families.
Hala Darwish states that the main success of this programme was the collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs. UNICEF worked collaboratively with the ministry to define the mechanisms for this programme, and the eligibility criteria were set based on Syria's national certification for people with disabilities. In addition, the national registry which contains information about people with disabilities is being updated to accurately represent the population because the case management component has linkages to the available public services. This means that many beneficiaries of the programme were successfully directed to the appropriate government agencies to obtain their disability cards, which entitles them to more benefits.
Another important success is that the programme is being able to run efficiently during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the economic instability caused by COVID-19, the Syrian currency lost value in comparison to the American Dollar and many adjustments to the programme needed to be made as a result.
A recent report about the cash transfer programme showed a 68% decrease in school drop-out levels among beneficiaries. There was also a decrease in negative coping strategies such as neglecting health care and decreasing food intake. The report also noted that there is an increase in the use of specialised disability services which has decreased the demand previously placed on public services.
Gaza – Oxfam
Najla Shawa started by giving a general snapshot of the current situation in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) with a focus on Gaza. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank face a lot of political constraints. Many in the area have been under a blockade for 15 years which further complicates their living conditions. According to Najla Shawa, the government does not have a high capacity to provide extensive social protection measures. There is also a divide between the politics and the governance systems of Gaza and the West Bank which adds another layer of difficulty when it comes to creating cohesive social protection programmes. However, many national and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that have been active in Palestine for decades, like Oxfam, are continually aiming to provide effective humanitarian responses.
The Ministry of Social Development provides the major social protection programme in the country, the Palestinian National Cash Transfer Programme, a cash transfer that is provided four times a year to over 80,000 families in the Gaza Strip. However, in the past couple of years, the beneficiaries of this programme have been experiencing delays. Instead of receiving four payments, families are receiving three payments a year. Also, the government does not currently provide a programme that targets specific vulnerable groups like women, the elderly and children. At the moment, all of the targeted support is provided by NGOs.
Gaza has faced many recurrent crises because of conflict and the blockade. According to Najla Shawa, these crises have not allowed for any economic activity to become viable or sustainable. COVID-19 is yet another crisis and Oxfam and like-minded NGOs are working to mitigate the current situation by providing humanitarian cash transfers for vulnerable families and also by attempting to influence the government to work in a coherent way and adjust to the issues faced by the population.
The discussion ended with a lively Q&A session which you can access here.
This webinar was part of the Linking Social Protection with humanitarian cash webinar series, of the Grand Bargain Cash Sub Group on linking social protection and humanitarian cash transfers co-led by UNICEF, IFRC, and DFID.