Reflecting on the questions of social assistance in protracted crises

Published on 9 March 2022

On 3 March 2022, Better Assistance in Crises (BASIC) Research held a launch seminar at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and online.

Watch the recording

We discussed the plans for the next three years, during which the research team will be examining the challenges of providing more effective social assistance to people in protracted crises in some of the world’s most challenging contexts. As often happens, we had a rich discussion in the online chat which we weren’t able to do justice to in the seminar itself, and so in this blog we aim to share some of the missed comments and questions, while also reflecting on the key takeaways of the session.

The need for better evidence: lessons from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine

Three crises over the past year have illustrated the issues we will be exploring through BASIC Research, their importance, and the need for better evidence to inform policy and practice: Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.

Ethiopia, for many years, was seen as an example of a successful transition from decades of humanitarian aid to a more nationally-led and Shock-Responsive Social Protection (SRSP) system. However, what has happened to the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) with the war – both for people cut off from assistance in Tigray and people affected by conflict in other parts of the country? The challenges of getting assistance to people in Tigray and beyond illustrates the need for states and humanitarian actors to pivot between both humanitarian and development approaches.

Afghanistan had 20 years of massive investments in state-building, including through the National Solidarity Programme and the Citizens Charter. However, the takeover of the Taliban has thrown all of these aid systems up in the air. As organisations try to pivot to more humanitarian approaches in Afghanistan, there are pertinent questions about how financing mechanisms will work, and also about how aid agencies engage with national and local authorities, as well as other actors.

In Ukraine, as a humanitarian response gears up and aid agencies launch appeals, there are many questions being raised about the existing social protection system. Will pensions and child benefits still be paid? Could international aid complement the humanitarian response with greater support to existing systems? These are all real and current challenges as governments, aid agencies and civil society try to get assistance to people.

BASIC Research aims to contribute to these types of decisions by providing an evidence-base to inform decisions. In order to do this, BASIC Research will be coordinating closely with Social Protection Technical Assistance, Advice and Resources (STAAR) and building on the many great resources which came out of Social Protection Approaches to Covid-19: Expert Advice (SPACE). STAAR will be providing technical support to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) posts and others on social assistance in crises.

Situating BASIC Research in a broader research/practice context

Attendees at the seminar noted the need to situate social assistance within broader development and humanitarian efforts. This is necessary to support people in crises and to consider questions of resilience – whether and how people can ‘graduate’ beyond assistance. On this, Sam Huckstep (Center for Global Development) noted work that the Ikea Foundation is supporting on refugee access to labour markets. In Afghanistan, Uganda, Mozambique, North East Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, that randomised evaluations starting to deliver evidence on graduation programming in protracted refugee contexts, which was mentioned by Paola Elice. Some of this work is being featured during the World Bank Fragility Forum running from 7 to 15 March 2022. Victor Ogharanduku (Save the Children International) noted the importance of adjusting approaches and the mix of instruments according to context to impact on peace and fragility, as his work in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria explores.

There was also a robust discussion about the role of local and national governance in social protection. Zehra Rizvi (UNICEF) spoke to the need to consider local as well as national level governance, for instance, efforts to support municipalities in Lebanon. Paola Elice (World Bank) pointed to a similar ongoing project in Uganda that is setting up a system which transfers funds to the local governments, based on refugee influx. With schemes such as these and beyond, there it is important that humanitarian interventions to complement, supplement, or support ongoing interventions by the (local and/or national) state and the need to avoid binary state vs external aid approaches, as mentioned by Stephen Devereux (IDS) – SPACE have explored this before.

Throughout the seminar, there was discussion about how existing research and the planned research of BASIC conceptualises ‘dependency’. There was agreement in the online chat that we need to be careful about the way in which the term is used, as it is often done so pejoratively. When thinking about how people rely on social protection, it is important to bring in a rights-based approach that focuses on how people rights and entitlements into crisis contexts. This may be a way to frame how people depend on assistance more positively.

Bridging the gaps: intersections and coordination

There were questions raised during the seminar about whether BASIC Research will be looking into the intersections between climate and conflict – this is a central theme of our work and is explored in a recent working paper on climate resilience and social assistance. Attendees also asked about how BASIC Research will address the inclusion of migrants, refugees and displaced people in systems for assistance, something we have also written about in the first series of working papers. We hope to explore this further to build on the body of existing work. This type of coordination is essential, as Carla Lacerda (UNICEF) mentions with reference to the newly agreed model for cash coordination. Further to this, looking at how humanitarian actors are working together in the current context of Ukraine is an opportunity to action some of the lessons learnt.

Staying connected

To keep up to date with the latest BASIC Research events and publications, be sure to follow our LinkedIn page. If you are interested in building on the above discussions, there is a bi-weekly Hangout on Social Protection in Crisis Contexts, as mentioned by Zehra Rizvi. The first Hangout was on Wednesday 9 March 2022. The Hangout is a place for practitioners to meet and network in an informal setting with light facilitation, an open environment, and no agency hats. It is open to all and it uses Chatham House rules, which means there are no notes or recordings. There is also a BASIC Research roundtable planned for 30 March 2022 which will be followed by a series of online debates. As we begin the implementation phase of BASIC Research, we look forward to continuous engagement and collaboration with researchers and practitioners exploring social protection in crises and look forward to building on the vibrant community in this space.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.

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