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World: Helpdesk Report: K4D – Social Safety Nets in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States

Source: Department for International Development
Country: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, World, Yemen


Social safety nets in fragile and conflict-affected states often include cash and in-kind transfers, school feeding programmes and public works programmes (O’Brien, Scott, Smith, Barca,
Karden, Holmes, Watson & Congrave, 2018). Programmes often target vulnerable households, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in order to reduce their exposure to shocks and recourse to negative coping strategies, and to strengthen social cohesion (see for example, AlAhmadi & de Silva, 2018). In protracted crises, humanitarian actors frequently use social safety net approaches and there is overlap between humanitarian assistance and social protection (O’Brien et al., 2018). In addition to safety nets, social protection programmes in fragile and conflict-affected states can also target government institutions, building the government’s capacity to deliver longer-term social protection programmes.

The country examples presented in this review illustrate that even if government-led social protection programmes exist, for example national cash transfer programmes, fragility and conflict affects and can destroy their ability to function. For example, Yemen’s Social Welfare Fund delivered cash transfers to 1.5 million households until early 20151 . Pre-existing national programmes and systems can be useful to donors and implementing agencies delivering social protection even if they are not functioning. For example, pre-existing beneficiary lists can make beneficiary targeting easier.

However, weak institutions, low institutional and absorptive capacity and damaged infrastructure can pose implementation challenges (Holmes, 2010, p. 4). For example, limited government ownership of a World Bank financed project to improve pension administration in Afghanistan slowed the project’s progress (World Bank, 2018b, p. 23). Humanitarian responses often create new emergency structures as national or local institutions are not able to respond a crisis (AlAhmadi & de Silva, 2018, p. 23). However, in Iraq, this may have led to duplication as both the Iraqi government and humanitarian agencies were providing cash transfers to IDPs (Smart, 2017).

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Selected insights from the evidence on fragile and conflict-affected states includes:

  • Social safety nets and social protection programmes are often donor funded and implemented by UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs); the linkages between implementing agencies and government institutions vary from programmes that operate in parallel, to those that ‘piggyback’ on elements of pre-existing systems and those that seek to build and strength government systems. Programmes that work with government systems may have the goal of transferring ownership to the government (see for example section 3 on Afghanistan);

  • Large-scale programmes include World Food Programme interventions (e.g. food assistance, cash transfers and public works in South Sudan) and a UNICEF/World Bank emergency cash transfer programme in Yemen, which replaces a pre-existing government-led scheme;

  • Small-scale interventions include UNICEF’s cash transfer for children with disabilities in Syria and pilot projects in Afghanistan;

  • Project results, including beneficiary numbers are readily available, however, evidence of long-term impact or impact on goals such as educational attainment or improved food security are less readily available. It is difficult to conduct programme evaluations in fragile and conflict-affected countries as it may not be possible to access beneficiaries due to insecurity or to track beneficiaries due to high levels of internal displacement (Aurino, Tranchant, Diallo & Gelli, 2018, p. 15);

  • Returnees and IDPs face barriers in accessing social protection, for example, in Afghanistan returnee children have struggled to access the school system due to problems with having their school certificates recognised (UNHCR, 2018);

  • Security concerns can affect the scale and reach of social protection programmes, for example, in Sudan it is hard to reach IDPs in non-government controlled areas (UNOCHA, 2018);

  • Humanitarian agencies often work with host communities as well as IDPs in order to promote social cohesion;

  • Gender sensitive programming is important as women can face barriers accessing social protection, for example, women in Afghanistan cannot travel far from their villages, which could hinder their ability to attend registration centres (World Bank, 2018b). The World Bank’s funded cash transfer programme also had gendered impacts on food security: male food security increased, but women’s did not. Cash-based programmes do not necessarily have impacts on gender norms or roles or equality (see for example,
    UNHCR, 2018);

  • Donor harmonisation can also be a problem, for example, in Iraq, until recently, there was no agreed cash transfer amount amongst implementing agencies.

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The evidence base on social protection in fragile and conflict-affected states, particularly in relation to provision and policy/programme impacts is generally weak (Slater, Mallet & Carpenter, 2012, p. 1). For example, knowledge gaps include the evidence of social protection on children’s education, including whether effects vary by type of programme, child gender or degree of conflict intensity (Aurino at al., 2018, p. 3)2 . This lack of evidence critically hinders the design of context and child sensitive responses that can promote the accumulation of human capital, particularly in situations of protracted fragility (Aurino et al., 2018, p. 3). In terms of displacement, there is lots of information on programmes working with refugees, for example, Syrian refugees in Jordan. During the course of this review only limited evidence was found of programmes addressing the needs of returnees to fragile and conflict-affected states. IDPs are included in a number of the social protection programmes outlined in the review. In selecting examples, this review largely focused on states that are included in DFID’s high fragility category.


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