Shock-responsive social protection: leveraging existing systems to deliver rapid relief – myRepublica
With Nepal’s increasing vulnerability to frequent and extreme disasters, shock-responsive social protection approaches need to be an integral part of disaster risk reduction and management policies and act at local and federal levels.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most significant disasters in recent history. To respond to a disaster of such unprecedented scale, governments and humanitarians have had to innovate in their response mechanisms. Reaching the poor and vulnerable population with immediate large-scale relief was essential. The Herculean task has been exacerbated by disrupted services and systems across sectors and industries due to the lockdown and restraining orders imposed due to the pandemic. Many of our neighboring countries, including India, have solved this problem by taking advantage of their existing social protection programs.
Governments around the world are developing various social protection programs to fulfill their commitment to protect poor and vulnerable citizens and reduce the risks, poverty and vulnerability to which they are subjected. The Nepalese government is also committed to guaranteeing the social and economic rights of its citizens. Its various social protection programs are instruments to meet this commitment. These programs can be adapted to respond to disasters and shocks through different strategies. Our neighboring countries, including India and Bangladesh, have shown good examples of how this can be done.
The Government of India has enabled immediate transfer of cash to approximately 320 million individual bank accounts identified through pre-existing national social protection schemes under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. Between May and August 2020, 84% of India’s poorest households received at least one benefit under this scheme. Food delivery was impressive on a large scale – 77.5 percent of the poorest households received foodgrains. This is an example of vertical expansion of a social protection system where the value or duration of benefits is increased for existing beneficiaries. The system can be extended horizontally to temporarily increase the number of beneficiaries to accommodate them in the event of a disaster or shock.
During the great earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the Government of Nepal, with the support of UNICEF, temporarily included all children under the age of five in the social security allowance program in 11 affected districts and provided cash transfers to support their nutrition and well-being. In addition, there are other strategies by which existing programs can be used during a disaster. Piggybacking uses existing program infrastructure; refocusing prioritizes existing resources; or shadow alignment is when a humanitarian system works alongside a social protection program.
Similarly, social protection programs can also be used during multi-hazard events such as floods or cold spells. In 2021, the Nepal Red Cross has leveraged the government’s Social Security Grant (SSA) program to reach already vulnerable families who were affected by the October floods in Karnali with rapid cash transfers. Immediately after the floods, the Danish Red Cross mobilized its emergency funds which were deposited directly into beneficiaries’ SSA bank accounts. The SSA program reaches 3.4 million vulnerable people divided into six categories: people with disabilities, the elderly, children under five, single women and widows and communities at risk.
With its impressive coverage, robust database management, and well-established banking channel delivery mechanism, there are clear benefits of using Nepal’s SSA program and its features to provide assistance during a disaster. It can be used to reach a significant portion of vulnerable people with cash assistance in a quick and cost-effective way. Leveraging existing delivery systems saves crucial time and reduces delivery errors. This was clearly proven during the October flood of Karnali.
A post-distribution monitoring study shows that cash assistance recipients spent their money on meeting their most urgent needs such as food, medical expenses and clothing. The report shows that it took one to three hours for at least 75% of respondents to withdraw their money from their SSA bank accounts and 99.5% of them were very satisfied with the cash distribution process. Although this method can be used to immediately reach families who are in urgent need with a rapid response, alternative methods such as prepaid debit cards which can be activated and loaded during a disaster can be used to reach the population. exposure that is not enrolled in the SSA program. .
Besides the SSA, other programs such as the Prime Minister’s Employment Program can also be used during disasters. Workers listed under this program can be mobilized to undertake potentially life-saving measures such as strengthening houses, cleaning canals or strengthening river banks. Donors such as the European Union Humanitarian Aid Operations have also invested in climate-smart innovations that can reduce the impacts of disasters by reaching the population at risk in time, and even before a disaster strikes. . This approach to shock-responsive social protection is one such way that can save valuable time and resources to reach communities at risk with support to save lives and livelihoods.
The National Authority for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management has predicted that two million people will be affected by the monsoon this year. Nepal is expected to receive above average rainfall this year. With Nepal’s increasing vulnerability to frequent and extreme disasters, shock-responsive social protection approaches need to be an integral part of disaster risk reduction and management policies and act at local and federal levels. On the other hand, cash transfer guidelines and social protection program policies should include specific clauses outlining the means by which emergency cash assistance can be channeled by leveraging social protection programs to reach at-risk and disaster-affected populations. There is also a need for continued national discourse to explore ways to temporarily expand existing program coverage to include disaster-affected populations who are not enrolled in social protection programs. Documenting examples and case studies of shock-responsive social protection, such as the rapid cash transfer during the Karnali floods in October 2021, will also help inform future preparedness plans and policies.