Sierra Leone

Safety nets, health crises and natural disasters: Lessons from Sierra Leone


ABSTRACT: Since the early 2000s, there has been growing interest in using cash transfers as a key modality for response to and recovery from shocks. As more and more countries put in place national safety nets, the value of scaling up existing government-led programs and systems in response to disasters has gained prominence. This paper examines the case of Sierra Leone, a low-income country with an emerging social protection system that has been used to respond to natural disasters and health crisis. In May 2015, just as the government was rolling out its national safety net program (Ep Fet Po), Sierra Leone was hit by the twin shocks of an Ebola Virus Disease outbreak and a sharp drop in the international price of iron ore. As a response, the government scaled up the provision of cash transfers to about 60,000 extremely poor households. In August 2017, Freetown experienced severe flooding and a massive landslide, affecting nearly 6,000 people. A multi-purpose, cash transfer-based intervention was launched in response. These responses used the institutional arrangements and delivery systems of the Et Fet Po to differing degrees, highlighting how nascent social protection systems can support the delivery of emergency cash transfers. This case study suggests how shock-responsive social protection systems can be the basis of a government-led response to a health crisis and a rapid-onset disaster. It also points to how linking pre-arranged finance to safety nets can help with quick delivery of cash to vulnerable populations post-disasters. This experience complements existing evidence and experience in other parts of Africa, where social protection systems have been used for responding to drought, a slow-onset natural disaster. It also informed the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Sierra Leone, which will provide further lessons for shock-responsive social protection globally.