The need for shock-responsive social protection

Social protection programs were originally created for workers in the formal sector. In recent years, however, it has spread to marginalized sectors, particularly those in the informal economy. With the onset of the food, financial and energy crises in 2008, there was increasing discussion about improving the coherence between humanitarian aid and social protection measures in order to reduce the need for humanitarian aid. recurring and to facilitate more effective responses in times of crisis.

How is humanitarian assistance different from existing safety nets in the social protection system? The general situation in which humanitarian actors work is unstable and chaotic, which immediately threatens the lives of affected victims. Thus, humanitarian aid programs have short-term horizons and survival objectives, and government funds for these are usually increased by development partners. However, safety nets last longer and are usually funded by public budgets.

What is important to consider, however, is that often both programs have common target beneficiaries in a community. This is evident as both generally prioritize the transient and chronic poor and share similar program elements (e.g. cash transfers), but they use different institutional and delivery platforms. Again, linking social protection and humanitarian aid is also necessary from a financial point of view. A growing number of donors are keen to shift ‘humanitarian caseloads’ to social protection systems, as some of the current humanitarian functions can be delivered more effectively and efficiently through safety nets.

On the humanitarian side, using an existing targeting mechanism and delivery platform can lead to much lower operational costs compared to other parallel mechanisms. At the same time, social protection programs can easily provide mitigation mechanisms during shocks (e.g. micro-insurance for housing, crop insurance for damages incurred), thus reducing the real costs of recovery . Nevertheless, shocks related to disasters or conflicts easily reverse the gains made by social protection programs for poor and near-poor households. The integration of humanitarian assistance in the event of such shocks provides a cushion for these households so that they can maintain their advance from a poverty or low income trap.

Thus, an existing national social protection system can be leveraged more quickly in an emergency response and could even cover a larger number of people. At the same time, this engagement with social assistance systems to deliver humanitarian responses can help strengthen the state system to deal with emergencies and build household and community resilience. In the developing world, practices linking social protection programs and humanitarian assistance have multiplied through a common list of beneficiaries or joint distribution platforms for cash transfers.

Social protection, disaster risk response and humanitarian assistance are programs that address issues of poverty and vulnerability, two closely related issues. The synergy between these programs can lead to a sustained government effort to lift millions of Filipinos out of the poverty trap. In the Philippines, there have been specific cases where the platforms of 4Ps, a social protection programme, have been used in the emergency operations of two humanitarian and development partners: the World Food Program and UNICEF. This was during the relief and rehabilitation efforts following Yolanda. There is indeed a convergence between social protection and humanitarian aid, and the government must build on these positive experiences.

The DSWD plays a leading role in the national disaster risk management framework. It is the lead agency in disaster response activities, which include prevention and mitigation, preparedness, relief, recovery and rehabilitation. At the same time, he also co-chairs four coordination clusters of the United Nations cluster system: food security, shelter, camp coordination and management, and protection. Another important factor is that the DSWD is the lead agency in the implementation of many social protection programs, especially the 4Ps, and, at the same time, in responding to disasters. Thus, it should be able to facilitate the linkage and convergence of more social protection, disaster response and humanitarian assistance programs in collaboration with other relevant agencies.

Within the DSWD itself, key elements for linkage and convergence are in place: a database of poor households for targeting, a network of field staff across the country implementing a social safety net program , a cash payment system, a data and information management system for disaster response (the virtual operations center), a cluster mechanism for multi-stakeholder coordination and a funding channel. Although these platforms and systems are far from perfect, they have been operational, some for more than five years. They are like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be put together in specific programs. At the same time, aid agencies may be able to leverage these frameworks during disasters. So this shock-responsive social protection system that is linked to humanitarian aid is really the way to go!

Dr. Fernando T. Aldaba is Professor of Economics and former Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Ateneo de Manila University.

Joel C. Hicks