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Special journal issue gives evidence on what works for social protection in fragile contexts

Seven new papers use variety of methods to overcome challenges of conducting research in humanitarian settings
04 Dec 2019

Children at a UNICEF-supported tented school for Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

(Florence, 6 December 2019) As conflict-related crises and the movement of people across the globe continue, there is a growing need to support vulnerable populations who have been uprooted or are on the move. Social protection can help to address this need, through supporting basic needs, addressing poverty, and providing opportunities to improve health and education of children. A newly published special issue of the Journal of Development Studies aims to inform and support the design of social protection programmes in these humanitarian contexts.


“Ongoing and new crises left an estimated 164.2 million people in need of international humanitarian assistance in 2016,” said UNICEF Innocenti’s Manager of Humanitarian Policy Research, Jacobus de Hoop. “The combination of commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals [Goal 1.3] and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit [increase social protection programmes and strengthen national and local systems and coping mechanisms in order to build resilience in fragile contexts] means now is the time to focus efforts on building resilient and effective social protection systems in fragile contexts.”

“Now is the time to focus efforts on building resilient

and effective social protection systems in fragile contexts.”

Despite the increased use of social protection in fragile settings, there is still a need for thorough research regarding what works and why. Significant challenges arise in conducting research in fragile contexts. The studies in this special edition are helping to close the evidence gaps by exploring:

  1. Intended and unintended education and child labor impacts of food assistance in Mali
  2. The nutrition impacts of food and asset transfers in Niger; 
  3. Productive impacts of in-kind and cash transfers in Yemen;
  4. Ways to effectively identify social protection recipients in Niger;
  5. The costs of reforming Iraq’s public distribution system;
  6. The impact of cash transfers on the school participation of displaced Syrian children in Lebanon;
  7. If social protection affects social cohesion among Colombian refugees and poor segments of the Ecuadorian host community.
A map showing the seven studies included in the Special Issue Journal of Development Studies on social protection in fragile settings.


“We hope that these studies will help support policy design and encourage further research on social protection in challenging humanitarian settings,” de Hoop said. Despite these emerging insights, the authors of the special issue call for more research on social protection in humanitarian settings, the efficiency of which can, ultimately, save lives.

The publication, focusing on social protection in contexts of fragility and forced displacement, follows a call for papers by UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti and a workshop on the topic in June 2018. Revised versions of seven working papers released at the workshop are included in the special issue, which was led and edited by UNICEF Innocenti, in collaboration with colleagues at the International Security and Development Centre and the World Bank.


Discover UNICEF Innocenti’s work on Social Protection in Humanitarian Settings plus explore our Research Watch on Social Protection in Emergency Situations,