Humanitarian responses supported by ECHO and Social protection, Social transfers and Safety Nets

This sections explains the meaning and the role of Social protection, Social transfers and Safety Nets.
Considering that these instruments are often framed in long term programmes, we believe important to give a very short overview of the definitions used by the Commission and to clarify the role of DG ECHO humanitarian food assistance.
Practical cases, examples and lessons learnt are also provided.

What is a Social Protection?

Social protection is a specific set of actions to address the vulnerability of people’s life through social insurance, offering protection against risks and adversity throughout life. It basically refers to social assistance, offering payments and in kind transfers to support and enable the poor, and inclusion efforts that enhance the capability of the marginalised people to access social insurance and assistance.
Social Protection may be broadly defined as policies and actions that enhance the capacity of all people, but notably poor and vulnerable groups, to escape from poverty, or avoid falling into poverty, and better manage risks and shocks and aim at providing a higher level of social security through income security and access to essential services (in particular, health and education) throughout active and inactive periods and periods of need throughout the life-cycle. (ref. EU COM “Social Protection in European Union Development Cooperation” – 2012)
Food security is an outcome. A social protection system can be applied to achieve food security. Because social protection offers social guarantees — institutionalised, predictable and sustainable — it offers an appropriate framework to address structural causes of food insecurity. (Ref: Social Transfer in the fight against hunger – 2012).

What is a Social Transfer for the EU?

Social transfers, in the EU document Social Transfer in the fight against hunger, refer to non-contributory, publicly funded, direct, regular and predictable resource transfers (in cash or in kind) to poor and vulnerable individuals or households, aimed at reducing their deficits in consumption, protecting them from shocks (including economic and climatic shocks), and, in some cases, strengthening their productive capacity.

What is a Safety Net for the EU?

The term was introduced to refer to a temporary measure to catch those who were transiently made vulnerable through structural adjustment and liberalisation (e.g. transfers to households or subsidy programmes). The term ‘(social) safety net’ is now widely used, sometimes with a different meaning. There is no commonly agreed definition of this terminology, and actors may use it to refer to protective social transfer projects ensuring a minimum level of income (as per the original definition), or (humanitarian) cash transfer projects, or social transfer schemes developed within a broader social protection system (guaranteeing a long-term institutionalised social protection).
This Reference Document Social Transfer in the fight against hunger (2012) adopts the original, narrower definition of a safety net as a temporary social transfer project operated outside of government structures.

What is the role of ECHO?

As mentioned in Topic 3 and Topic 5 the EU’s humanitarian instruments are particularly effective in dealing with short-term, rapidly evolving, large-scale and finite needs.
However, the protracted nature of many crises also requires humanitarian actors to engage in longer-term humanitarian food assistance.
Conversely, chronic food insecurity and its structural causes are best tackled through predictable social safety-nets, social transfers, social-protection or sustainable livelihood development programmes, which in turn are best implemented over a long-term horizon, with strong national and local ownership. Such interventions are clearly best suited to development actors working with multi-annual budgets, and not to humanitarian actors with short planning horizons and limited ability to engage with governments.

As stated in the Humanitarian Food Assistance Communication, «the Commission will not use humanitarian food assistance to address chronic food insecurity, except: where non-intervention poses immediate or imminent humanitarian risk
of significant scale and severity; where other more appropriate actors are either unable or unwilling to act, and cannot be persuaded to act; and where, in spite of its comparative disadvantages, positive impact can be expected within the time limitations of its intervention. In such cases, the Commission will only engage humanitarian food assistance on the basis of dialogue, coordination and advocacy with potential development players, where they exist, and with a clear and realistic exit-strategy defined».
However, evaluations of DG ECHO funded projects are specifically encouraging to fill key knowledge gaps on linkages between humanitarian cash programming and social safety nets (Ref. DG ECHO Cash and Vouchers guidelines – 2013).

What can ECHO fund?

ECHO funds will not directly fund governments to set up and implement long term social protection, social transfers, and safety nets but can be used:
– To advocate for their development in order to reduce vulnerability and as a suitable Linking Relief and Rehabilitation Development (LRRD) plan
– To temporarily support safety nets as a temporary social transfer project operated outside government structures
– Whenever deemed appropriate in term of targeting and efficiency, ECHO can support its partners in using existing government’s led programmes as ‘channel’ to transfer cash (or other resources) to humanitarian crisis affected beneficiaries only
– As part of the HFA toolbox, ECHO can support transfer of in-kind, voucher and cash to beneficiaries for transient food insecurity via its partners for a defined period of time

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