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Adaptive Social Protection in the Sahel

Dry season in Burkina Faso

A series of workshops to promote effective support for flexible social protection systems

The Sahel countries are struggling with climate change, food insecurity and armed conflict, all posing existential risks to their largely very poor populations. Adaptive Social Protection offers a trajectory for tackling such interrelated challenges and provides a potent framework for policy dialogue and coordinated action with national governments.

This article is also available in French

A three-week marathon of seven intensive workshops, launched in January 2021 by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), brought together over 90 online participants from the World Bank, UNICEF and the World Food Programme – partners in promoting resilience and addressing needs in the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger). What unites them are their efforts in building systems of Adaptive Social Protection (ASP), an approach that addresses and reduces risks, and fosters prevention by strengthening people’s and societies’ resilience.  

In her address to the opening workshop, Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, BMZ Parliamentary Secretary, confirmed that ’Adaptive social protection has become an important approach for Germany.’ Germany provides more than 440 Mio. Euro to four major ASP-related programmes in the Sahel region led by these multilateral partners. The BMZ initiated this series of workshops to foster exchange on a harmonised vision and action on Adaptive Social Protection in the countries. The aim is to support these agencies’ efforts to ‘speak with one voice’ and to coordinate their actions in the intricate policy dialogue that is ongoing among partners and national and regional authorities – literally ‘to co-create systems in support to national governments’, as Kathrin Oellers, Head of BMZ’s Division for Population Policy and Social Protection, put it in her remarks to the closing workshop.

Adaptive Social Protection: bridging humanitarian aid and social protection

 When catastrophes strike, the most severely affected are often left without protection: the poorest families have less capacities to prepare for, or cope with crises related to food, floods, income losses or other. Despite increased efforts and signs of progress, providing relief is beyond the sole government’s financial or organisational capacity. ‘Humanitarian’ and ‘transitional’ assistance is in many countries filling a gap by supporting victims over a shock. But what to do when – as in the Sahel currently – crises and shocks become the norm rather than a rare occurrence?

The Sahel has been made increasingly fragile by the compounded effects of climate change, leading to drought, famine and extreme poverty, which in turn feed into desperate reactions such as migration and armed conflict, which fuel further displacement and impoverishment. In this context, the response also needs to be compounded: Social protection cannot stand alone, but must be associated with the work of other sectors.

With its global vision and pragmatic approach based on interconnected ‘building blocks’ (see below) Adaptive Social Protection supports better linkages between the domains of Social Protection, Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation, all of which are relevant to managing risks before, during and after shocks. Linking these three domains can enable more timely, predictable, efficient, accountable, cost-effective, and sustainable approaches, to provide comprehensive and effective coverage and support to those affected.

 Adaptive Social Protection is focussed on building sustainable systems under the ownership of national governments. This implies a redefinition of the ‘division of labour’ with international partners.

The four ‘Building Blocks’ of Adaptive Social Protection

ASP has gained momentum as a global concept to support countries to work across sectors to address multi-dimensional risks more comprehensively. 

 The analytical framework for the series of workshops was provided by the four ‘Building Blocks’ identified for Adaptive Social Protection. The participants – both at the agencies’ headquarters and in their respective country offices – were invited to reflect on strengths identified, challenges encountered and the way forward in their work with the countries relative to:

  1. Institutional arrangements and partnerships 
  2. Programmes and delivery systems 
  3. Financing
  4. Data and information. 

These Building Blocks are cross-cutting, interconnected themes that can help partners think across sectors and identify where they add value, where the gaps lie, and how to sequence work towards building a comprehensive ASP system. 

What came out of the workshop series?

Between the kick-off workshop on January 19 and the consolidation workshop on February 10, five country workshops were organised, bringing together the experts from the different agencies in each country for a ‘deep dive’ into how their respective programmes individually and together are furthering the promotion of Adaptive Social Protection in the dialogue with national partners. Their reports at the closing workshop led to lively debate and realising how much these countries also have in common. Participants observed that key challenges are found in all building blocks, but that Building Block 1 (institutional arrangements and partnerships) and Building Block 4 (data and information) contain key blockers / enablers, e.g. government leadership and a common data base. Practical issues raised in the country reports include e.g. the lack of social registries and unique identifiers such as identity cards.

The country teams agree on the importance of anchoring Adaptive Social Protection in national policies and building on existing systems as well as involving different levels of government – the best prospect for ownership and sustainability. They also confirm the importance of a functional, inter-operable social registry in each country as a priority: An up-to-date social registry can provide the most effective and equitable basis for allocating the international support that can be expected to remain necessary for the foreseeable future.

Participants underline the importance of regional coordination through existing organs such as the Comité permanent Inter-Etats de Lutte contre la Sécheresse au Sahel (CILSS) and its Early Warning System. Another example is the Sahel Alliance founded in 2017 by Germany, France, the European Union and other multilateral and bilateral partners for the purpose of promoting resilience in these five countries.

Participants said that the workshops helped them to harmonise their perspectives on Adaptive Social Protection and to move towards ‘speaking with one voice’ to ensure that ASP measures are credible and sustainable, with national governments firmly ‘in the driver’s seat’.

Adaptive Social Protection is an incremental and iterative process

In their concluding words, the workshop organisers underlined that ASP must be seen as an incremental and iterative process. The various shock-responsive approaches, system elements and harmonised tools developed at a technical and operational level in a context as difficult and insecure as the Sahel need to be complemented by visionary national leadership in order to be effective. The dialogue with governments needs to aim at a broader understanding of social protection in general and Adaptive Social Protection in particular as part of a social contract between government and population.

All partners agreed that sustained coordination among bilateral partners and the implementing UN agencies is key to ensure that all continue to ‘speak with one voice’ in support of national government policies. Likewise, country to country learningto share experiences appears crucial, and participants called for regular meetings to continue such exchange.

In the wake of this series of workshops, BMZ plans to commission a major study to support this joint learning process aimed at optimising synergies between contributing partners, regional anchoring of Adaptive Social Protection through the Sahel Alliance and dialogue that supports government engagement and leadership. 

© / Robert Ford
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