Written by Maya Hammad and Lucas Sato, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG)
The strength of social protection systems in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and their ability to respond to shocks, varies tremendously from one country to the next, with some countries suffering from limited financing, inadequate coverage and a lack of coordination and digitised infrastructure (IBC-SP 2020). Generally, though, prior to the pandemic, social protection systems in the MENA region were characterised by the following features:
- low social protection coverage and considerable gaps in the social policy infrastructure to properly address the needs of the most vulnerable groups
- Reliance on manual cash delivery through post offices, which are sometimes unable to reach the most vulnerable
- Issues with the regularity and timeliness of payments in some MENA countries, due to delays in the budget disbursement process and problems with the delivery modality
- Limited monitoring and evaluation of programmes or institutionalised grievance redress mechanisms (GRM)
- Considerable gaps in communication strategies implemented to inform the public of available benefits
- Exclusion of non-nationals due to legal, fiscal, administrative and informational barriers.
Considering this context, strengthening social protection systems generally and making them more shock-responsive, and more inclusive of vulnerable and marginalised groups specifically, is vital to respond effectively to the volatile environment of the MENA region. A shock-responsive social protection system is one that can respond flexibly in the event of covariate shocks, such as natural hazards, economic crises and conflict, affecting large numbers of people or communities simultaneously (UNICEF 2019, 3; OPM 2015). Furthermore, inclusive shock-responsive social protection, which, in addition to responding flexibly to support large numbers of people, also recognises that different groups of vulnerable people are impacted differently by shocks, and thus takes into account their heterogeneous needs in the design and implementation of the response. Such groups with differing needs and added vulnerability during crises include children, women, persons with disabilities, informal workers, migrants and forcibly displaced populations.
The COVID-19 pandemic propelled most countries in the region to implement a wide array of social protection measures to respond to its negative effects and most often, their responses included a few changes from the past operations of their social protection systems in terms of beneficiary identification, payment modalities and migrant coverage and inclusion. The IPC-IG COVID-19 Social Protection Response Dashboard includes 160 measures implemented in MENA (IPC-IG 2021). Consequently, the UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth collaborated to produce a four-part series providing MENA governments and practitioners with general guidelines for future shock response informed by lessons learned from the COVID pandemic. The series includes recommendations on the design and implementation of inclusive:
- targeting, identification and registration mechanisms (Hammad 2022a);
- transfer values and payment modalities (Hammad 2022b);
- communication, case management and GRMs, and the
- inclusion of migrants in identification, payments, communication and GRM specifically, given the salience of the issue of forcibly displaced populations in MENA.
Targeting, identification and registration mechanisms
Within targeting, identification and registration mechanisms, the main changes to operations implemented by most MENA countries were the reliance on online open registration mechanisms and since a few countries in the region had developed single registries in the past, their use in identifying beneficiaries during the COVID response was lower in MENA than in any other region in the Global South (Hammad, Bacil and Soares 2021). Nonetheless, of the shock responsive social protection measures implemented in the MENA region, the following list of best practices and recommendations for how to improve their inclusivity and examples of countries that implemented them are shown in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Summary of Best Practices, related recommendations and country examples in inclusive targeting, identification and registration mechanisms
Transfer values and payment modalities
As for transfer values and payment modalities, the main changes to operations implemented by most MENA countries in the COVID response is the reliance on digital payment modalities and the shift towards mobile money for rapid disbursements (Hammad et al. 2021). Nonetheless, of the shock responsive social protection measures implemented in the MENA region, the following list of best practices and recommendations for how to improve them and country examples are shown in Table 2 below.
Table 2: Summary of Best Practices, related recommendations and country examples in inclusive transfer values and payment modalities
Communication, case management and GRM
In the communication, case management and GRM processes implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic digital modalities and remote processes became paramount to ensure the continuation of services in light of containment measures. Given the measures implemented in the MENA region in this regard, the following list of best practices and recommendations for how to implement them and country examples are shown in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Summary of Best Practices, related recommendations and country examples in inclusive communication, case management and GRM
Migrants and Forcibly Displaced Populations
The MENA region contains the main host and origin countries for forcibly displaced populations in the world. In most countries, they do not have access to health services, formal work opportunities, adequate living conditions and sanitation. Their limited access to social protection systems and responses to COVID-19 reduce their means of coping with the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. However, some examples of best practices on inclusive social protection response to forcibly displaced populations and other migrants were mapped in MENA countries. A few of these examples, recommendations for how to implement them, and country examples are shown in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Summary of Best Practices, related recommendations and country examples in inclusive social protection responses for migrants and forcibly displaced populations.
- Hammad, Maya. 2022a. “Practitioner Note 1: Inclusive targeting, identification and registration.” Research Report No. 67. Brasília and Amman: International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth and United Nations Children’s Fund Middle East and North Africa Regional Office. < https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/practitioner-note-1-inclusive-targeting-identification-and-registration>
- Hammad, Maya. 2022b. “Practitioner Note 2: Inclusive transfer value, type and payment modalities.” Research Report No. 68. Brasília and Amman: International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth and United Nations Children’s Fund Middle East and North Africa Regional Office. < https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/practitioner-note-2-inclusive-transfer-value-type-and-payment-modalities>IBC-SP. 2020. Social Protection Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis in the MENA/Arab States Region. New
- York: Regional United Nations Issue-Based Coalition on Social Protection. <https://socialprotection.org/discover/ publications/social-protection-responses-covid-19-crisis-mena-arab-states-region>. Accessed 10 December 2021.
- IPC-IG. 2021. “Social Protection Responses to COVID-19 in the Global South: Online Dashboard.” Social Protection website. < https://socialprotection.org/social-protection-responses-covid-19-global-south >. Accessed 5 August 2021.
- OPM. 2015. “Conceptualising Shock-Responsive Social Protection.” Working Paper, No. 1. Shock-Responsive Social Protection Systems. Oxford: Oxford Policy Management. < https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/conceptualising-shock-responsive-social-protection>. Accessed 10 December 2021
- UNICEF. 2019. Programme Guidance: Strengthening Shock Responsive Social Protection Systems. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund. <https://www.unicef.org/media/63846/file>. Accessed 10 December 2021.
 Forthcoming June 2022.
 Forthcoming July 2022.
This post is part of the ‘COVID-19 Social Protection response series’, a 12-piece blog series featuring discussions based on data and evidence from the interactive dashboard ‘Social protection responses to COVID-19 in the Global South’, developed by the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in partnership with SPACE and sponsored by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and UNDP Brazil. The dashboard illustrates part of the data compiled in the COVID-19 tracking matrix and provides detailed insights into countries’ social protection responses to the crisis, working as a repository of experiences and government practices in shock-responsive social protection taking place in developing countries worldwide. Its indicators are divided into seven thematic sections: overview of responses, type of adaptation, timeliness, identification of beneficiaries and application tools; delivery mechanisms; coverage; and adequacy of benefits. This blog series is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia.