SPACE - Identifying Practical Options for Linking Humanitarian Assistance and Social Protection in the COVID-19 Response (September 2020)

Manual and Guideline
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This short note examines the relationship between the humanitarian assistance sector and the routine social protection sector in response to COVID-19. 1 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.
Both sectors have comparative advantages that together can improve overall outcomes:

• Routine social protection systems usually have larger reach, while humanitarian actors are specialised in serving the most vulnerable, working collectively they can achieve higher coverage, adequacy and comprehensiveness of assistance,to better meet needs of affected populations.

• Humanitarian actors are good at mobilising quickly, while routine social protection systems often work more cost-effectively. By working together, they can ensure better timeliness, cost-effectiveness, accountability, predictability and sustainability compared to working in parallel2 .
The exact ways in which this can be achieved –and trade-offs faced-depend on country context and on the relative strengths of each sector in that country.

The impact of COVID-19 in low income and fragile or conflict-affected states is yetto 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 result in a protracted, multi-dimensional response. The indirect impacts of COVID-19 may well be more severe and longer lasting, with increases in poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality, and the long-term effects of missed schooling. Poverty, vulnerability to COVID-19 impacts, and the effects of other shocks, are likely to overlap and exacerbate each other.
Identifying the most vulnerable in a changing context with heightened needs and newly affected population groups, will be a unique challenge.

A crisis of this magnitude clearly requires focusing on the common objective of protecting the most vulnerable, while leveraging the relative strengths of both the humanitarian and the social protection sector so as to meet immediate3 and medium-term needs. The social protection sector has already stepped up globally, proving central in the COVID-19 response4 , 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. A timely response is particularly important in contexts with pre-existing vulnerabilities, such susceptibility to sudden onset shocks and conflict-related displacement.

A timely and comprehensive response is also important for populations that are known to be vulnerable, including displaced populations, women and girls, people living with disabilities, and older persons.