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Identifying practical options for linking humanitarian assistance and social protection in the COVID-19 response (July 2020)

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Why link humanitarian assistance and social protection?

This short note examines the relationship between humanitarian assistance and social protection in response to COVID-19. Whilst a variety of guidance is being developed to support humanitarian practitioners around the response to the pandemic, less material exists that guides humanitarian practitioners on how to practically link their responses to social protection (SP) systems and programmes in the COVID-19 response, or that provides key emergency response considerations for social protection practitioners.

Both sectors have comparative advantages in the COVID-19 response that together can improve overall outcomes: collectively contributing to achieving higher coverage, adequacy and comprehensiveness of assistance,to better meet needs of affected populations through an approach that ensures better timeliness, cost-effectiveness, accountability, predictability and ownership/ sustainability compared to the status quo and compared to any alternative. The exact ways in which this can be achieved – and trade-offs faced - depends on country context and on the relative strengths of each sector in that country.

The impact of COVID-19 in low income, fragile and conflict-affected states is yet to fully reveal itself,though there is obvious cause for concern. The direct impact on the health and well-being of the population, as well as the broader socio-economic implications of COVID-19 are complex and will most likely result in a protracted, multi-dimensional response. The indirect impacts of COVID-19 may well be more severe and longer lasting than the primary impact with increases in poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality, and losses of human capital, especially in less developed economies more vulnerable to external (regional and global) dynamics such as reliance on commodity exports and food imports. Poverty and vulnerability to COVID-19 impacts, and the effects of other shocks, are likely to overlap or exacerbate each other in certain contexts. But defining the most vulnerable in a changing context with needs exacerbated and newly affected population groups will also be a unique challenge. In addition, humanitarian crises may emerge or re-emerge in countries that have hitherto navigated a more ‘developmental’ track.

A crisis of this magnitude clearly requires focusing on common objectives in protecting the most vulnerable, leveraging the relative strengths of each system and sector so as to meet immediate and medium-term needs. The social protection sector has already stepped up globally, proving central in the COVID-19 response, yet responses have often been slow and insufficient to address compounding needs. This is especially the case in countries with unprepared, nascent or fractured social protection systems – or with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including susceptibility to sudden onset hazards and conflict-related displacement and for populations that are known to be vulnerable, including displaced populations, women and girls, people living with disabilities, and older persons.