From the ground up: The long road to social protection in Somalia

Most of the humanitarian response in Somalia remains focused on short-term assistance that doesn’t address the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability among Somali communities. The growing consensus among the international actors is that more long-term approaches are needed to make a sustainable difference in people’s lives.

Between 2010 and 2012, the East Africa region was affected by a severe drought, culminating in a food crisis across Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. With poor rainfall in over two years – compounded by violent insurgency and political instability  Somalia was the hardest hit.

In July 2011, the UN declared famine in the country. By the time it was over, less than a year later, nearly 260,000 Somalis were dead, more than half of them children under five.

Five years on, food insecurity remains acute in Somalia, with 24% of the households experiencing some form of hunger, according to the World Bank. This year, the country is experiencing another drought – with more than 3.1 million people in direct need of live-saving humanitarian assistance and another 3.1 million also affected – but it has so far managed to avert famine.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into humanitarian assistance this time around,” said Maryan Qaasim, the Minister of Humanitarian and Disaster Management, pointing to the combined efforts of the government and the international community. “The number one priority was to save as many lives as possible.”

The donor community has raised more than €1 billion to provide 2.5 million food-insecure Somalis with life-saving assistance. The majority of this assistance has come in the form of unconditional cash and voucher transfers distributed on a monthly basis by organisations like the UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Maryan Qaasim on humanitarian interventions in Somalia and making the communities more resilient:

The cash and voucher programmes, Qaasim said, have allowed the affected communities to purchase essential foods and services, and have played a fundamental role in averting the famine this year.

Most of the humanitarian response in the country, however, remains focused on short-term assistance that doesn’t address the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability among Somali communities. Though dry seasons are predictable, Qaasim added, the real challenge lies in ensuring the communities are better prepared for the difficult times.

“When we’re conducting humanitarian assistance, we’re really just alleviating the short-term emergency; we’re not addressing the root causes,” she explained. “We’re feeding the people, but not making them more resilient to the shocks. Because we know, ahead of time, that there will be a shortage of rain. Yet we run the risk of famine every time it happens.”

The first steps

After more than two decades of protracted conflicts and political instability, Somalia established a federal government in Mogadishu in 2012. Under the Somali Compact for 2013-2016, the government identified five Peace and State Building Goals and began working on realising them with the help of the international donor community.

In December 2016, the country unveiled its National Development Plan. The comprehensive document lays out Somalia’s strategic direction from 2017 to 2019 and identifies social protection and access to services as key priorities for the country.

Following a peaceful transition of political power in February 2017, the new government drafted a national disaster management policy to provide a legislative framework and strengthen national capacities for effective disaster preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. With support from the Italian government and various UN agencies, the federal government is also running a consultative process to draft a national social protection policy that will outline a broad vision for an inclusive social protection system.

“The steps taken by the government have shown us that there is a strong political will to eradicate poverty through the promotion of social protection,” said Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Rehabilitation. “The ministries are committed to the issue; the momentum is there.”

While the national social protection system is not yet in place, various humanitarian and development agencies have been expanding their own safety net programmes across Somalia, especially in the most affected southern and central parts of the country.

The programmes include UN- and NGO-led unconditional and conditional cash transfers, school feeding programmes, health and nutrition care, as well as projects to assist internally displaced people and returnees. Increasingly, there is also more focus on long-term projects with developmental capacity.

“Until now, long-term approach has not been at the forefront of development agencies working in the country, because of the challenging context,” said Ric Goodman, Director for Resilience at DAI, a private development company. “But Somalia now has a federal government that we can support, so there is every reason to try to incorporate long-term programming into the work being done there.”

In contrast to countries with functioning social protection systems, where the external humanitarian assistance supplements the government-led support mechanisms, in Somalia, the challenge is to create a national system out of the existing work done by international organisations and local NGOs, said Pamela Dale, Social Protection Specialist at UNICEF. “Essentially, we’re doing everything in reverse.”

To that aim, the consultative process, which started in 2016, has brought together the federal government and the various member states, as well as international donors and local NGOs. Its purpose, said Dale, is to identify how best to utilise the experience of humanitarian and development actors in supporting the government.

“With all the humanitarian programming that’s been happening in Somalia, we’re figuring out which of the elements could be transitioned into a government-run social protection programme,” Dale said. “Things like the targeting mechanisms, the different national identity programmes and registration systems, the monitoring and evaluation – how many of those can be rolled out on a national level and be led by the government?”

The international community’s focus has shifted to actively pursuing ways of aligning their programmes with the government’s vision, said Massimo La Rosa, Social Protection Adviser at ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian arm. “While the Somali government is working on drafting a national social protection system,” he said, “we can already start improving the mechanics of social protection from the bottom.”

‘More than cash’

Since the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, there has been a growing consensus among the international organisations working in Somalia that cash transfers on their own will not be enough to ensure a smooth transition from purely live-saving humanitarian interventions towards more sustainable safety net programmes.

Dominique Burgeon from FAO on the need for more sustainable social protection mechanisms in Somalia:

“In unstable, conflict-affected areas, where there is a lack of capacity to deliver most of the basic services, cash transfers can reach the most vulnerable people,” said Goodman, from DAI. “But the transfers are not the only thing that is needed for improving household or individual resilience. They’re necessary, but not sufficient – health, education, water, sanitation and skills are just as important.”

In fragile contexts with hard to reach areas, different approaches might be necessary, particularly when trying to address underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability. In this regard, according to Joseph Chege, Food Security Specialist at USAID, cash based interventions in Somalia have matured over the years, and are already expanding beyond the provision of cash as a social safety net and beginning to addresses the risk, vulnerability and chronic poverty.

CASH+ programme [implemented by FAO] and cash-for-work have therefore shown that cash as a relief response offers wide-reaching possibilities to benefit local markets and economies, to re-establish livelihoods and to enable beneficiaries to take control of the relief themselves,” said Chege.

Despite the growing consensus, however, the conversation around social protection in Somalia remains dominated by cash transfers, said Dale, from UNICEF.

Pamela Dale from UNICEF on the challenges to the cash transfer programmes in Somalia and on moving towards longer-term forms of assistance:

“And I think this is where we need to be very cautious,” she explained. “Cash transfers have played an excellent role in protecting the vulnerable communities from being severely affected by humanitarian emergencies, but if the response lacks the elements of predictability and consistency that allow people to protect themselves from risks and make investment decisions, I feel like it’s not all the same. Just because we’re giving cash, that doesn’t make it social protection.”

While life-saving assistance – including cash transfers – will remain the humanitarian organisations’ priority in the country for many years to come, Dale added, the reality on the ground has made them realise the need for more sustainable approaches.

“Ensuring that people can lead healthy and productive lives; that their children can remain in school – these investments aren’t things we can ignore while we’re focusing on preventing deaths. We also have to look towards more sustainable solutions, ones that address the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability – and this is where we’re trying to figure out the next steps.”

‘Breaking down silos’

Goodman, from DAI, recently helped ECHO and the EU Delegation to Somalia design a roadmap for a safety net and social protection system in the country. His research has identified several key challenges, including limited state capacity and insecurity, but also the lack of cooperation among the various international actors.

Ric Goodman on consolidating humanitarian support at a national level:

“There is a considerable degree of fragmentation and a high degree of poor coordination evident on all levels and on all sides,” he said “We need to move from this fragmented approach, with different donors setting different policy objectives, and with every agency running its own distribution system, to a more standardised, common approach. These are functions that could just as well, if not more efficiently, be run at a central or national level.”

Dale pointed to the joint work between Unicef and WFP on using WFP’s SCOPE registry platform, as a sign that the humanitarian organisations are increasingly coordinating their use of cash transfers in Somalia.

She did admit, however, that until recently, there has been a lack of coordination between humanitarian and development actors in the country. “Somalia is a context development actors are not really used to working in,” she explained. “The kind of long-term investments they could be doing elsewhere, they’re incredibly difficult in a state of constant fragility and insecurity, and where there is uncertainty around the government.”

Another reason, she added, is that humanitarian and development actors use different funding streams and modalities. “For many years, we seem to have had these silos of humanitarian and development funding, with so much left out in between,” she said, noting that the trends are beginning to shift. “Now, these silos are increasingly being broken down, and the funding and the programming are becoming more and more aligned.”

Long-term commitments

At a glance: EU development aid to Somalia

The EU is Somalia’s largest donor, both in terms of political engagement as well as financial and technical support and expertise.  Since 2008, the EU has provided more than €1.2 billion to the country through various financial sources.

The Somali Compact provides the overarching framework for coordinating political and development efforts for peace and state building activities. A large part of EU development funding to Somalia is financed by the European Development Fund, with the focus on three sectors: state and peace building; food security and resilience; and education.

Additional funding comes from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, particularly for programmes related to peace-building efforts, the management of migration flows and displacement, and the support of displaced people within Somalia and returning Somali refugees from neighbouring countries.

For more information visit DEVCO

This year, ECHO has invested close to €120 million to avert the famine. In addition to the humanitarian assistance, the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) has been pursuing long-term development programmes in the country since at least 2008. Until recently, however, DEVCO and ECHO’s programmes were not really attuned to each other.

According to La Rosa, this year’s drought triggered an internal discussion at the European Commission between ECHO and DEVCO on the potential for conducting joint efforts in Somalia.

“We often end up using our different funding streams to provide support to the same groups of people,” he said. “So we began asking ourselves, how can we help more effectively with these different approaches – how can we do it together? We used to think that it is possible to have a linear handover between the humanitarian and development interventions. Now, we’re realising more and more that what is needed is to have short-, mid- and long-term vision from the very beginning.”

ECHO and the DEVCO staff at the EU Delegation to Somalia have already begun working on a much closer collaboration, added Johan Heffinck, Head of Office at ECHO Somalia. “We’re looking for a way to turn our emergency cash transfer programme into a middle-term safety net, in which both the humanitarian and development actors play a role. If a drought eventually comes again – and we know that it will – the humanitarians will step in to provide immediate support to complement the safety net with emergency cash transfers.”

Johan Heffinck from ECHO on working with DEVCO in Somalia:

In the recovery stages, he continued, development organisations would establish more long-term interventions, like productive safety net programmes, to ensure a continued access to resources for the affected communities. “Setting up such a safety net – one that also works between crises – is probably the best way to prevent the next drought from turning into a famine. It’s a form of a buffer that prevents the families from having to always depend on humanitarian aid.”

Among the challenges to implementing a long-term safety net, Heffinck listed the government’s limited capacity and the lack of security in many parts of the country. “You also need at least some financial sustainability,” he said. “The donors have to be motivated to think beyond the next year and into 2019 and 2020. We need a long-term commitment on all sides.”

Image credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones via Creative Commons license 2.0

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