In addition to its immediate public health impacts, COVID-19 pandemic is leading to an unprecedented socio-economic crisis of global scale, as it spreads across countries. To address its secondary consequences, countries are taking social protection measures – introducing, expanding, adapting safety nets to protect people hit by the crisis. As of April 24th, over 150 governments are using cash in COVID responses, and the speed, scale and coverage of the interventions are notable, many are still falling through the cracks. What are the implications of this on the linkage between social protection and humanitarian cash? The webinar on April 16th, the fifth of the series on the topic, aimed to tackle this question. Using the World Bank, ILO, UNICEF tracker of social protection responses to COVID19 as a base, this webinar aimed to:

•       Understand the ‘peculiarities’ of a global pandemic and effects on linking humanitarian cash and social protection

•       Learn lessons from other contexts and how they can be applied

•       Discuss entry points for linking humanitarian cash to social protection

•       Discuss recommendations on an evolving situation

The discussion was moderated by Zehra Rizvi, with guest speakers Natalie Klein, West & Central Africa Regional Representative of Cash Learning Partnership, Gabriel Fernandez, Social protection expert working with Government in Liberia, and Calum McLean, Humanitarian cash expert, previously with ECHO.

You can also watch the recording and access the PPT.


Lessons from the Ebola crisis response in Liberia

Gabriel started his presentation by sharing the Ebola crisis background, a summary of responses by humanitarian actors, followed by main takeaways. 

Both COVID-19 and Ebola outbreaks are public health crisis with severe socio-economic impacts – though not of the same magnitude.  During Ebola, the humanitarian responses focused on strategic communication to manage fear and stigma caused by the disease and restore trust in authority, and programming to address the impact of containment and mitigation measures. Cash transfers became the main response tool used by many humanitarian actors.

-       At the policy level, the existence of a Social Protection Policy in the country, which served as the overarching framework for the cash response, and strong coordination among various stakeholders, which defined clear roles and responsibilities for each humanitarian actors, as well the establishment of a multi-donor fund, were crucial in the successful implementation of responses.

-       At the programme level, a cash working group led by the government had been established. This helped avoid duplications, harmonize transfers, provide a comprehensive response with wide coverage. In terms of design, the programmes identified and targeted beneficiaries using health data on Ebola, and the transfers were clearly distinguished from the remuneration paid to frontline workers.

-       At the administrative level, close engagement with local authorities and communities ensured the smooth delivery of the benefits – from enrolment stage through payment and monitoring and helped connect beneficiaries with various social services such as psychosocial support and child benefits.


What are some of the key learnings from this experience that humanitarian actors can apply to COVID-19 context? Gabriel highlighted five takeaways:

1.     Coordination mechanisms could serve as the key entry point for strengthening the relationship with national response leads: setting the basis for building sustainable systems that can respond to the needs of vulnerable populations. Good practice: clear ToR with roles and responsibilities of stakeholders.

2.     Community engagement and capacity building including local authorities is critical;

3.     Invest in a good communication strategy with behavioral change outcomes that can reach beneficiaries and empower them. This means prevention messages that resonate, and informative messages on their entitlements.

4.     Act in short-term and think in medium-long term: prepare a recovery plan (with funding proposal), as gains made in response can be undermined by not having it.

5.     Invest in social protection system building to ensure resilience: Household Social Registry a good starting point.


Western and Central Africa regional picture

Next, Natalie presented about the current COVID situation in West and Central Africa. She started by noting how the current crisis presents a call for national governments to play a strong leadership role in building social protection systems. At the time of the webinar, only a handful of countries have taken social protection measures in response to COVID, including Cape Verde, Nigeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso among others. COVID response will require strong coordination among various stakeholders, with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities, and leadership by the national government. In practice, a fewer number of actors might work better – ensuring smooth coordination and maximum impact. In health emergencies, governments tend to play critical role, but the space for humanitarian actors can also be huge, especially in implementing large scale cash transfer programmes given their expertise. For humanitarian actors, there are two ways to support social protection systems:

•       Where government systems existing: providing humanitarian cash for specific groups or provide top-ups for existing beneficiaries

•       Where systems are nascent or non-existing: delivering humanitarian cash and increasing coverage.

When collaborating, it’s important to go beyond delivery, and use emergencies as an opportunity to build systems as some of the measures, such as social registries or digital payment mechanism, that take a while to put in place during calmer times can happen quickly during a crisis.


Implications for COVID-19 crisis

Building on Natalie and Gabriel’s talk, Calum provided his insights on the implications of these lessons and context on COVID-19 crisis. He started by emphasizing how COVID-19 will likely have greater secondary impacts compared to other health emergencies, through loss in incomes, livelihoods which are severe, urban and long-lasting. This has implications for targeting, as the populations made vulnerable by the pandemic will be larger. Other programming related aspects to think about are transfer size and social registries. For instance, social protection programmes may prioritize coverage over benefit amount, whereas humanitarian programmes may target a smaller population but provide more support. How can humanitarian actors maximize the impact of their response, but also integrate sustainability into their approach and contribute to long term systems building? Calum proposed two potential solutions, focusing on how these two systems can complement each other:

-       For countries with existing social protection systems, use the architecture to quickly provide assistance to a wider population

-       For countries with a relatively weak system, take advantage of humanitarian actors’ agility and expertise to support groups hit by the disaster.


The webinar concluded with a rich Q&A session, accessible here. You can also join the Q&A discussion here.


This blog post is part of the Linking Social Protection with humanitarian cash webinar series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organized by IFRCUNICEF and DFID on the topic. To set the scene, don’t forget to watch the foundational webinar on this topic: Demystifying the entry points for humanitarians. This webinar is also part of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations. Join our online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]'' to learn more about the initiative and future webinars.

 If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary or the whole series, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Governance and coordination
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Global
  • Liberia
  • Global
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's