Social protection responses to COVID-19: challenges and opportunities to urban settings in Sub-Saharan Africa


In April 2020, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimated that between 5 and 29 million people could be pushed below the extreme poverty line in the region as a result of COVID-19 economic impact. Vulnerable households affected by COVID-19 face an increased probability of moving into transient poverty and of staying in poverty for a decade or longer1. Yet, there is an emerging consensus among governments and international organisations that the impacts of the current crisis can be different among population groups and regions within a same country. 

The rural vs. urban division plays a major role in determining the indirect economic effects of COVID-19: loss of earnings, potential increase in food prices, reduction in own food production, and draw down of liquid assets. People who rely on casual wage labour and self-employment–mostly living in the cities - or on remittances from family members are more impacted by lockdown measures and less able to cope with the economic shocks2. Furthermore, high population density in urban settlements can be considered as an additional burden for the urban poor in the context of the current crisis, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings3 and only one-in-five households in the poorest two quintiles have a place to wash hands with water and soap4 (Brown, Ravallion, van de Walle, 2020). 

In many African countries, routine social protection programmes are concentrated in rural areas. The perception that wealth and employment opportunities are found disproportionately in urban areas can result in the urban poor being relatively neglected (Gentilini, 20155; Cuesta et al., 20206) In addition to that, the complexity of reaching urban caseloads - via innovative approaches to registration, eligibility determination, and payments - should not be under-estimated. 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.

1Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), 2020. “COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies”, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  
2Wylde, E.; Carraro, L.; McLean, C. 2020. “Understanding the Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Who, Where, How, and When?” Social Protection Approaches to COVID-19 - Expert Advice Helpline, SPACE. 
3Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), 2020. “COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies”, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  
4Brown, C.; Ravallion, M.; van de Walle, D. 2020. “Can the World’s Poor Protect Themselves from the New Coronavirus?”, NBER Working Paper Series, No. 27200. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research
5Gentilini, U. 2015. “Entering the City: Emerging Evidence and Practices with Safety Nets in Urban Areas”, Social protection and labor discussion paper, No. 1504. World Bank, Washington, DC.
6Cuesta, Jose & Devereux, Stephen & Abdulai, Abdul‐Gafaru & Gupte, Jaideep & Ragno, Luigi & Roelen, Keetie & Sabates-Wheeler, Rachel & Spadafora, Tayllor. (2020). Urban social assistance. Evidence, challenges, and the way forward, with application to Ghana. Development Policy Review. 10.1111/dpr.12513.



Tayllor Spadafora, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa (ESARO)

Krishna Pahari, Senior Regional Programme Officer - WFP Regional Bureau for East & Central Africa

Erica Mattellone, Chief of Social Policy and Evaluation, UNICEF Madagascar

Jules Simpeze Banga - Advisor to the Minister of Energy and Water Resources for North Kivu, DRC



Lena Gronbach, University of Cape Town


This was the twenty-eighth webinar 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 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.