The COVID-19 crisis is estimated to have substantial economical impacts in Africa, but those will not be identical among population groups and areas within a country. As a result of the different socioeconomic structures and dynamics of rural and urban areas, people living in the latter are far more impacted by lockdown measures and face more difficulties in implementing the recommended social distancing and sanity procedures. In addition, social protection programmes in the African continent are mostly carried out in rural areas, which posed a challenge to many different countries to develop new programs specifically for urban settlements.  

The webinar “Social protection responses to the COVID-19: challenges and opportunities to urban settings in Sub-Saharan Africa”, held on August 25, was organised by the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) as the 28th in the “Social protection responses to COVID-19 Webinar Series”, developed by the platform. This webinar sought to complement the one led by the FAO on rural areas to address these issues, building on experiences of COVID-19 responses in some selected Sub-Saharan African countries from both government and non-government actors.

The webinar was moderated by Lena Gronbach, a researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. It featured presentations from:

  • Krishna Pahari – Head of the Research, Assessment and Monitoring Unit of WFP’s Regional Bureau for East Africa
  • Taylor Spadafora – Social Policy Specialist in the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO)
  • Erica Mattellone – Chief of Social Policy and Evaluation at UNICEF Madagascar
  • Jules Simpeze Banga – Advisor to the Minister of Energy and Water Resources for North Kivu, DRC

You can watch the recording here and access the slide presentation here.


Impact of COVID-19 on urban livelihoods, food security and nutrition in East Africa – Krishna Pahari

Krishna Pahari presented the results of a report jointly prepared by WFP and UN-Habitat in which they analysed the impacts of the COVID-19 on the livelihoods, food security and nutrition of the urban population in East Africa. He started by contextualising the urban situation in the region, which recently saw an unplanned increase in its urbanisation process. As a result, a great number of people is living in informal settlements (58% out of the urban population), with access to very few basic facilities. To illustrate the expansion of the urban areas in different cities in the region, he showed some satellite data of cities such Juba, in South Sudan, where the built-up area became twice as big as it was in 1999. The combination of the urban expansion and the large proportion of residents living in slums increases the risks from COVID-19.

Since less than 30% of the households in East Africa have regular salaried income, most of the population in the region are dependent on informal or vulnerable sources of livelihoods, which get more vulnerable in the context of the pandemics, as can be seen in the graph below, used in Pahari’s presentation. These workers saw a great decline in their income and even salaried workers were hit by the impacts of the pandemic.


He continued to explain that this severe loss of livelihood resulted in a decline in the income, affecting the purchasing capacity and increasing food insecurity across the households in East Africa. As the region was already one of the most food insecure in the world previous the COVID-19 crisis, where the households have been suffering from the impacts of multiple shocks, this pandemic comes as one more challenge to be faced by countries in the region.

Pahari then stressed how the urban areas emerged as the new hotspot for food insecurity. Since the urban residents saw a decline in their income, their economic access to food became severely compromised. This has had a profound impact on their nutrition, for affording nutritious food becomes nearly impossible. The population living in the urban areas in East Africa, therefore, face many different challenges already, the COVID-19 being just an additional risk to the ones already present there.


Social Protection in Urban Contexts: Learning Lessons from COVID-19 – Taylor Spadafora

Taylor Spadafora gave an overview on the challenges and lessons learned regarding the implementation of social assistance and cash transfers in urban areas in the context of COVID-19. Since most of the social protection programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa have originated in rural areas, implementing them in urban areas was quite challenging, due to a variety of reasons, such as the differences in urban and rural poverty. The urban areas are characterised by higher living costs, strong reliance on a monetised economy, insecurity in employment and housing, a much more mobile population, and weaker social networks among communities.

Moreover, social protection programmes in the region were not ready to deal with a widespread economic crisis, such as the one caused by COVID-19, which affected populations that were not defined or included as recipients of social protection, including informal workers and working poor from the urban environment. Another problem to the response to COVID-19, highlighted by Spadafora, is that social protection assistance coverage is extremely low in the region.

She, then, marked some of the challenges encountered by the government in translating rural social protection into urban areas. Different looking households, more nuanced vulnerabilities, weaker community ties and higher expenditures were mentioned as key challenges related to targeting. In respect to registration, there were some disadvantages related to people not going to work for registering. Monitoring was also more difficult because of the more mobile situation and the using of automated systems that resulted in less contact of social workers with the target population. In terms of payments, even though there were advantages for the greater access to banking and mobile technologies, they would have to be higher to compensate for the living costs.

Spadafora concluded by emphasising the lessons learned from this, which are important to push social protection forward: the information gathered during this event can be used to improve the design of urban programmes, to expand registries to include urban populations, to broaden the idea of social protection to a rights-based approach and to create links with other services.


Social Protection Response to COVID-19 in Madagascar – Erica Mattellone

Erica Mattellone presented the operational side of the social protection response to COVID-19 in urban areas in Madagascar by giving an outline of the lessons learned and the challenges faced during the emergency. The speaker started by explaining how, because of the economic fallout, the percentage of people below the poverty line will increase to 83% by the end of 2020. Then, she described the single harmonised strategy that was put in place by the Cash Working Group under the leadership of the government, in close partnership with humanitarian and development actors. Known as Tosika Fameno, this multi-sectoral and unconditional cash transfer is directed to the most vulnerable households in urban areas, such as informal workers, single parents and people with disabilities.


Above is of one of the slides used by Mattellone to illustrate the Tosika Fameno implementation process. It included a phase of beneficiaries’ pre-registration in urban areas, followed by data cleaning, and scores to identify the most vulnerable households. After the first payment, an in-depth review was conducted to correct inclusion and exclusion errors for the second payment. The number of targeted households was expanded as more urban areas were affected and more funding became available.

She then exposed some of the lessons learned from the programme’s implementation in Madagascar. It included some difficulties regarding the benefit’s payment, due to low phone penetration in the country and to the crowds that were created with the cash distribution centres. However, some features were key to the success of the programme, such as its effective coordination by the Cash Working Group and the Government, the strong leadership of the authorities, and the linkages with other programmes. Mattellone also exposed the intentions of the government in revising the strategy to develop a medium-term recovery response until the end of 2021. The case of Madagascar is a good example of how a social protection programme can be implemented in a very short period and through very close collaboration with other stakeholders. The speaker finished her presentation with a video about what social protection is and how it works.


Access to water for COVID-19 prevention – Jules Simpeze Banga

Jules Simpeze Banga shared the experience on free water policy installed by the Democratic Republic of Congo government in the province of North Kivu as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. It was presented in French, with simultaneous translation to English by Claire Espey. He started the presentation by explaining the situation of the city of Goma, capital of North Kivu, where access to water and sanitation is very low. In the urban areas of Eastern Congo, there was an increase of population combined with a deterioration of these services, meaning that they have no access to piped potable water, increasing the risks of diseases and violence.

COVID-19 came as an additional layer of challenge to the local public health system, also affecting the province’s population economically and socially. The movement restrictions, as well as the closure of the borders and different establishments in the province had a tremendous impact on cities such as Goma that are located on the borders and depend on that transnational commerce. To try and mitigate these effects, the national government determined that the state companies of water and electricity distributed these utilities for free in May and June, as can be seen in the image below, used in Banga’s presentation. Since these companies are concentrated in urban areas, the main beneficiaries of this policy were the urban population.

He proceeded to expose some of the consequences that resulted from the water policy that was implemented. Firstly, the lines in front of the tap stands grew considerably longer in comparison to what it was before. Also, some private water operators lost all their business to the public tap stands that were providing free water for that time. Another consequence was the large increase in the number of hours of interrupted service and water reduction in the month of May, for example, where there were a lot of shortages of water that lasted longer than 10 hours.

In conclusion, while this free policy might have made water more accessible for some, it reduced security and accessibility in terms of waiting time, as women and children had to wake up early to be able to collect water. The reselling of water being practiced by some and the lack of income for the water companies to be able to treat, distribute and pump water through the system also had negative impacts to the situation.


Q&A Session

In the Q&A Session, Krishna Pahari commented on the impact of COVID-19 on local food production and food imports, which led to a deficit in terms of total production and what is required for consumption. It also increased vulnerability on the imports, due to the decline in remittances and foreign exchange from the restriction impact on the global and regional supply chain.

Tayllor Spadafora explained how several countries are vastly dependent on remittances from outside of the country that are usually not factored into the social protection programmes. Even though sometimes, when targeting, it may be asked if the person is already getting support from somewhere else. She also elaborated on the question of new urban social protection registries and how countries like Ghana, Kenya and Malawi already have rural registries, but Lesotho was the only one who recently had launched their urban initiative to do the urban data collection for the registry. Finally, she further explained some of the difficulties seen on verification in urban areas, such as the lack of social welfare workers that are able to do it, the lack of help from the community due to weaker networks, and choosing a time window for verification that do not clash with work.

Erica Mattellone explained the strategy used for targeting the potential beneficiaries in Madagascar, which was done by a self-registration approach that included a simple but effective questionnaire to try to identify people living in a vulnerable situation, due to informal income or other issues such as living with kids or people with disabilities. She also pointed out the challenges they encountered with mobile money, choosing to use it only for some beneficiaries.

Jules Simpeze Banga described the strategies implemented to respond to misinformation, which included a process adopted throughout the country of validating measures and tracking rumours. He also enumerated some additional measures applied in the Democratic Republic of Congo, such as the payment of operations for REGIDESO, the negotiation with a private electricity company, and a tax credit for private companies that lost their revenue from the free water policies.


The webinar was concluded with an interesting Q&A session, which is accessible here.


This blog post summarises the twenty-eighth webinar of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IG, GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (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 the online community “Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]” to learn more about the initiative and future webinars.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
    • Subsidies
      • Price subsidies
        • Fuel, water, and electricity subsidies
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Feedback and complaints mechanisms
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
  • Programme design
    • Benefits design
    • Targeting
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Consumption and expenditure
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Environment
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Housing and infrastructure
  • Poverty reduction
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Madagascar
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's