How Can Social Protection Contribute to Drought Resilience?

Social protection instruments have become a popular policy response to drought in recent years. More and more governments in sub-Saharan Africa have integrated cash transfers and public works schemes into their strategies to achieve long-term food and nutrition security or to enhance disaster risk management. DIE and GIZ co-organised the panel “Social Protection – A Main Pillar in Drought Resilience? Practical Experiences and Evidence From Sub-Saharan Africa” to discuss evidence demonstrating that regular income transfers allow people to better meet their immediate basic consumption needs and enable them to save for hard times.

The expectations around the application of these tools are high. Social protection tools work effectively when they reach affected populations at an early stage. Only then they can alleviate the common meltdown of personal assets, leading to larger scale famine at times. For the time after an acute drought situation, they help to shorten the recovery period, improving the adaptation capacity and overall resilience of vulnerable populations.

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Examples from Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi

The Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), which covers about eight million chronically food insecure people, presented encouraging impacts on food security, asset building, reduction of distress sales and resilience. Additional effects through public works in the area of soil and water conservation increase the environment’s capacity to absorb shocks.

Kenya´s Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) and the Social Cash Transfer Programme in Malawi demonstrated that regular income transfers allow people to better meet their immediate basic consumption needs and enable them to build up savings to better react to shocks in the future.

PSNP and HSNP have also become important instruments in averting humanitarian disasters. They are co-ordinated with disaster risk management and have mechanisms in place that allow expanding their coverage quickly in the case of an emergency and reaching additional numbers of people. This is cheaper, and the response is far quicker than traditional ways to deliver humanitarian aid and, hence, helps to save lives and livelihoods. However, there are not many existing programmes which are robust enough and have sufficient coverage and capacity to perform this additional function.

Multi-sectoral coordination is essential to strengthen households’ capacity

The panel concluded that social protection’s key contribution to resilience is to reduce the negative impact of shocks and to save livelihoods. The panelists also highlighted the fact that building resilience is complex and cannot be achieved by one programme alone. To strengthen the adaptive capacity of poor households and to reach long-term resilience, social protection has to be combined with services from other sectors: e.g. livelihood programmes, financial and health services as well as nutrition and hygiene education. Multi-sectoral coordination and cooperation are essential elements for success and are a huge challenge in implementation. Practical experiences show that capacity building, integrated task forces at all levels and institutions with the mandate to coordinate multi-sectoral cooperation seem to be working well in this respect.

It was also noted that accompanying research and evaluation are important elements for successful programmes. They create space for joint learning, adjustments and re-design, and they help to strengthen accountability. The panelists agreed that support for social protection should focus on long-term institution building in the local context. An emphasis on short-term outcomes is often counterproductive. Also, programmes should not be overloaded but priority should rather be given to the core functions: providing a basic income support in a reliable manner and thus reducing negative impacts of shocks. Political commitment to follow through and to learn and adjust on the way is an essential prerequisite.

Social protection can ensure that a drought doesn’t result in famine

Heike Henn, Head of Division, Food Security and Nutrition, Global Food Policies at BMZ, highlighted the relevance of improved nutrition for resilience building. Social protection is a cornerstone of food and nutrition security and resilience. The potential to improve nutrition security for the poorest is high and should be exploited through adequate additional measures like behaviour communication.

Florian Höllen, Senior Policy Officer for Social Protection in the Division of Health, Population Policy and Social Protection at BMZ, added that “leaving no one behind”, the overarching theme of Agenda 2030, explicitly set its sights on long- and short-term goals: fighting root causes of poverty and malnutrition and supporting those in need of immediate help and unable to wait until the results of long-term strategies kicked in. “Social Protection can make sure that a drought doesn´t become a famine,” Höllen said and stressed the Ministry’s general support for enhancing social protection and Germany’s Marshall Plan with Africa in particular, which envisages the support of financing and insurance mechanisms.

Slides of the Keynote

About the event

“Social Protection – A main Pillar in Drought Resilience?” was the topic of a panel discussion organised by German Development Institute (DIE) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) on 31 May. It was part of an event series on drought resilience titled “Research meets Development: Drought resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa”.

The article was prepared by Elke Kasmann of GIZ Sector Initiative Social Protection and Annette Roth of GIZ Sector Initiative Agricultural Policy and Food Security. The event was conducted on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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