The COVID-19 crisis in the Middle East and Africa in the new special issue of Policy in Focus
The third section of the newest issue of the Policy in Focus1 magazine approaches Jordan, Morocco, Namibia and Congo social protection responses to the COVID-19 crises.
Jordan and Morocco had some similarities in their responses; both put in place lockdowns at an early stage in attempt to contain the pandemic, while also launching social protection programmes to alleviate its consequences.
In “Lessons learned from Jordan’s national social protection response to COVID-19”, Manuel Rodriguez Pumarol, Ahmad Abu Haider, Nayef Ibrahim Alkhawaldeh, Muhammad Hamza Abbas and Satinderjit Singh Toor, from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in Jordan, indicate that after only three months into the crisis, Jordan managed to provide more programmes and social protection interventions than any other country in the Middle East and North Africa region.
"This rapid response was enabled by key policy changes that Jordan’s social protection sector has undergone in recent years with support from UNICEF and other development partners, such as the expansion of the National Aid Fund, the launch of the National Social Protection Strategy 2019–2025 and the operationalisation of the National Unified Registry".
The Jordanian government implemented one of the strictest lockdowns globally. However, such a drastic measure came at a high socioeconomic cost. With one of the youngest populations in the region—63 per cent of the population under 30 years old—Jordan faced a high rate of unemployment during the first months of the pandemic, reaching 23 per cent. To tackle it, the government mandated all formal private-sector firms to keep their workers, and set restrictions on wage cuts while providing some relief to firms.
Tackling unemployment was also a priority for the Moroccan government. Karima Kessaba and Mahdi Halmi, from UNICEF Morocco, explain in the article “Morocco’s social protection response to COVID-19 and beyond—towards a sustainable social protection floor”, that, in an effort to prevent lay-offs, formal workers in companies facing payment difficulties were able to receive a fixed monthly allowance. In parallel, Morocco also rolled out a social assistance programme to support informal workers, consisting of emergency cash transfers during a period of three months.
As an outcome of the social protection response to the COVID-19 crisis, the King of Morocco pledged to make the provision of social security to all Moroccans a national priority for the next five years.
It is also interesting to note that both Morocco and Jordan created solidarity funds to finance emergency health expenditure, as well as economic and social protection support measures. The fund would count with country provisions as well as donations from individuals and the private sector.
In the Namibian case, the application to receive an emergency income grant was implemented in an extremely efficient way. “Individuals could apply through self-nomination by sending a free text message containing their surname and ID number from a mobile phone. If individuals met the eligibility criteria, the funds would be transferred to them via an e-wallet at the bank of their choice—a bank account was not required. The entire process, from application to receipt of the grant, took no more than 72 hours”, explains Anette Bayer Forsingdal, Tulimeke Munyika (Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Security and Safety, Government of the Republic of Namibia) and Zoran Đokovic in the article “The role of Namibia’s civil registration and identity system in the country’s COVID-19 social response”.
This was the first time the Namibian government used electronic identity data to facilitate social protection programming and the distribution of grants.
Congo has also used technology in cash transfers; beneficiaries could opt to receive payments through telephone operators (mobile money). Beneficieries would receive telephone SIM cards from the government, and when accounts were created electronic money could be provided.
In the article “The Republic of Congo’s social protection response before and during COVID-19: Perspectives from the Lisungi programme”, Martin Yaba Mambou, Lisile Ganga and Cinthia Acka-Douabele, from UNICEF Congo, focus on Lisungi, a government-led cash transfer programme. The initiative targeted the most vulnerable households, with conditionalities such as schooling and children vaccination, as well as follow-up prenatal medical appointments for pregnant women.
1“What's next for social protection in light of COVID-19: country responses” is a special issue of the Policy in Focus magazine that aims to disseminate key discussions of the global e-conference “Turning the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity: What’s next for social protection?” held in October 2020 by the socialprotection.org platform, in partnership with the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). For more information on the magazine, read the summary of all articles. To learn more on the responses from Latin America and the Caribbean to the COVID-19 crises, click here.
Photo: Central Laboratories, Ministry of Health, Jordan. Equipment for diagnostics of COVID-19, Jordan