Social protection able to cushion crisis effects

Dec 3, 2009

(Suva, Fiji) – The United Nations is working closely with other development partners to support efforts by Pacific Island countries to assess and specify how they will each react to the impact of the current global economic crisis and future financial downturns.

One such avenue is the Pacific Conference on the Human Face of the Global Economic Crisis that will take place in Port Vila, Vanuatu from February 10-12th next year. Hosted by the Government of Vanuatu together with UN, ADB, SPC, USP, and PIFS, the conference will specifically address the need for countries to have stringent policies that will protect the poor and the vulnerable.

“The current global economic crisis highlights the importance of effective social protection policies and programmes to mitigate the impacts of economic downturn on vulnerable households and to strengthen existing traditional safety net in the communities. ADB has been preparing the Economic Recovery Support Programme Loan/Grants and a complementary Grant Social Protection project (proposed to be financed by Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction) to support the vulnerable in the Pacific countries (Cook Islands, RMI, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga). Those projects will provide direct support for the vulnerable as well as to facilitate the government and communities to develop most suitable social protection programme for the long term," said S. Hafeez Rahman, Director General of ADB's Pacific Department.

A wide range of social protection instruments from which Governments can choose from depending on the resources available include cash for work for the vulnerable, cash grant to communities, direct distribution of food or nutritional supplements, school based feeding programmes, maternal/paternal benefit payments, disability allowance, education bursaries, waiving fees, pension, unemployment and health benefits, microfinance, and agriculture assistance.

These schemes can have a big impact on poverty reduction and can also cushion the effects of the current and future economic and financial crises on the poor and the vulnerable.

UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) based in Fiji, Knut Ostby said now is a critical time for even stronger government investment in social protection interventions.

“Well-designed social protection programmes that directly involve cash or in-kind transfers to vulnerable groups, can actually boost economic growth and improve its pro poor quality. Short-term measures to mitigate the negative consequences of the current crisis are indeed urgent, but such shocks are likely to become an increasingly common feature of the global economic landscape. It makes sense then that policies to protect vulnerable families and children from such shocks should be central to national development strategies,” Mr Ostby said.