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Workshop on evidence on social protection in contexts of fragility and forced displacement

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Workshop on evidence on social protection in contexts of fragility and forced displacement

Sharing latest quantitative evidence on effects of social protection programmes in humanitarian settings, evidence gaps & policy implications

7 June 2018 - 8 June 2018

(6 June 2018) An international workshop at UNICEF Innocenti will bring together and foster exchange between researchers and policy makers working on social protection in settings of humanitarian emergency. The workshop, jointly organized with UNICEF's Social Inclusion section in New York, will take place on 7 and 8 June. The workshop is seen as a follow-up to the international conference on social protection in contexts of fragility and forced displacement held in Brussels in late 2017. 

The workshop will focus on the latest rigorous quantitative evidence on the effects of social protection programmes in humanitarian settings, concentrating on evidence gaps and the policy implications. The workshop coincides with the publication of seven new draft working papers, which will be discussed on the day. The papers broadly fall into three themes:

  1. Comparisons between effectiveness of different delivery modalities;
  2. Evaluations and implications of targeting choices (including universal reforms); and
  3. Impacts of programs targeted at refugees and host communities.

All seven papers are now available for download and can be found on the right-hand column of this page under "Related Content - Publications".

Malian refugees use a water point in the Mangaize refugee camp, Niger. Recurrent conflict between armed groups in Northern Mali cause a constant influx of refugees into the Tillabery and Tahoua regions of Niger.

As part of the commitments under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1, the global community at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) pledged to expand the coverage of social protection measures for all, and to achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable by 2030. This expansion must include scale up of social protection in humanitarian contexts, including fragility and forced displacement to ensure no one is left behind.

Social protection is increasingly considered as an important policy response in contexts of fragility and displacement. In non-fragile contexts, Innocenti research has provided extensive evidence and knowledge on related policy implications generated by  Social Cash Transfer Programmes in several low and middle income countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia  among others. Between 2013 and 2015 positive impacts on poverty, income multipliers, food security, productivity, education and health demonstrate that social protection helps reduce poverty, inequality, enhances livelihoods, and has long-term positive impacts on human capital development.

This year the UNICEF Innocenti team will continue to document positive evidence and knowledge gaps associated with conducting research on these systems, such as the cash transfer program in Lebanon, known as Min Ila, an initiative of the Government of Lebanon, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme to encourage school participation of displaced Syrian children. As Jacob De Hoop, Humanitarian Policy Specialist at Innocenti leading the research, highlights in his blog this research represents one of the first evaluations of a cash transfer program that aims to improve education outcomes for children in a refugee context and helps fill an important gap in our knowledge about what programs work to help refugees. It also demonstrates the challenges of achieving an equitable balance between assistance for refugees and host populations, an important question, particularly in locations where social protection guarantees for nationals and social services infrastructure remain limited.

In September UNICEF Innocenti interviewed six experts attending the Brussels Conference to talk about existing challenges, experience and potential of social protection programmes in contexts of fragility; forced displacement and prolonged crisis, as well as to identify future directions for research. Their words confirm the lack of knowledge in those areas and the critical role of research in bridging the gaps. The interviews conducted now form the basis of a new edition of UNICEF Innocenti's Research Watch programme titled: Social Protection in Emergency Situations Research Watch. On the Research Watch page you can find all the expert video interviews as well as extended podcasts and written commentary.

You can download the seven working papers now! Search on the right-hand column of this article under "Related Content - Publications".


This paper documents the impact of a cash transfer programme – an initiative of the Government of Lebanon, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), widely known as the No Lost Generation Programme (NLG) and, locally, as Min Ila (‘from to’) – on the school participation of displaced Syrian children in Lebanon. The programme provides cash to children who are enrolled in the afternoon shift of a public primary school. It was designed to cover the cost of commuting to school and to compensate households for income forgone if children attend school instead of working, two critical barriers to child school participation. We rely on a geographical regression discontinuity design comparing children living in two pilot governorates with children in two neighbouring governorates to identify the impact of the programme halfway in the first year of operation (the 2016/17 school year). We find limited programme effects on school enrolment, but substantive impacts on school attendance among enrolled children, which increased by 0.5 days to 0.7 days per week, an improvement of about 20 per cent over the control group. School enrolment among Syrian children rose rapidly across all of Lebanon’s governorates during the period of the evaluation, resulting in supply side capacity constraints that appear to have dampened positive impacts on enrolment.


Jacobus de Hoop; Mitchell Morey; David Seidenfeld

We rely on a unique precrisis baseline and five-year follow-up to investigate the effects of emergency school feeding and general food distribution (GFD) on children’s schooling during conflict in Mali. We estimate programme impact on child enrolment, absenteeism and attainment by combining difference in differences with propensity score matching. School feeding led to increases in enrolment by 11 percentage points and to about an additional half-year of completed schooling. Attendance among boys residing in households receiving GFD, however, declined by about 20 per cent over the comparison group. Disaggregating by conflict intensity showed that receipt of any programme led to rises in enrolment mostly in high-intensity conflict areas and that the negative effects of GFD on attendance were also concentrated in the most affected areas. Conversely, school feeding mostly raised attainment among children residing in areas not in the immediate vicinity of the conflict. Programme receipt triggered adjustments in child labour. Thus, school feeding led to lower participation and time spent in work among girls, while GFD raised children’s labour, particularly among boys. The educational implications of food assistance should be considered in planning humanitarian responses to bridge the gap between emergency assistance and development by promoting children’s education.


Elisabetta Aurino; Jean-Pierre Tranchant; Amadou Sekou Diallo; Aulo Gelli

A recent strand of aid programming aims to develop household assets by removing the stresses associated with meeting basic nutritional needs. In this paper, we posit that such programmes can also boost nutrition in recipient households by encouraging further investment in diet. To test this hypothesis, we study the World Food Programme’s “Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO)” in Niger, a conflict-affected, low income country with a high share of malnourishment. Under PRRO, a household could be in one of three groups at endline: receiving food aid to prevent malnutrition, receiving both preventive food aid and food for assets assistance, or receiving no assistance (the control group). When provided only by itself, the food aid has no nutritional impact, relative to receiving no assistance. However, we observe pronounced positive effects when preventive food aid is paired with assets-based programming, over and above what stems from greater household assets. We conclude, first, that certain forms of food aid function well in complex, insecure environments; second, that assets-based programmes deliver positive nutritional spillovers; and, third, that there are theoretical grounds to believe that asset-based programmes interact positively with more nutrition-focussed programming.


Tilman Brück; O.M. Dias Botia; N. T. N. Ferguson; J. Ouédraogo; Z. Ziegelhoefer

Iraq’s public distribution system (PDS) is the only universal non-contributory social transfer system in the world. Through three decades of conflict and fragility, food rations delivered through the PDS have remained the single largest safety net among Iraq’s population. Reforming the PDS continues to be politically challenging, notwithstanding its heavy dependence on imports and associated economic distortions as well as an unsustainable fiscal burden. The fiscal crisis since mid-2014 has, however, put PDS reform back on the agenda. In this context, this paper employs a mixed demand approach to analyse consumption patterns in Iraqi households and quantify the welfare impact of a potential reform of the PDS in urban areas. The results of the ex ante simulations show that household consumption of PDS items is relatively inelastic to changes in price, particularly among the poorest quintiles, and that these goods are normal goods. Cross-sectional comparisons suggest that, with improvements in welfare, and with well-functioning markets, some segments of the population are substituting away from the PDS and increasing their consumption of market substitutes. Overall, the results suggest that any one-shot reform will have adverse and sizeable welfare impacts. The removal of all subsidies in urban areas will require compensating poor households by 74 per cent of their expenditures and the richest households by nearly 40 per cent to keep welfare constant. However, a targeted removal of the top 4 deciles from PDS eligibility in urban areas will leave poverty rates unaffected and generate cost savings, but will need to be carefully communicated and managed to counter public discontent.


Nandini Krishnan; Sergio Olivieri; Racha Ramadan

There is increasing interest in understanding if social protection has the ability to foster social cohesion, particularly between refugees and host communities. Using an experimental evaluation of transfers, including cash, food and food vouchers to Colombian refugees and poor Ecuadorians in urban and peri-urban areas we examine if transfers resulted in changes in social cohesion measures. The evaluation was a cluster-randomized control trial examining a short-term programme implemented over six months by the World Food Programme. We examine six aggregate dimensions of social cohesion, derived from 33 individual indicators, in addition to an overall index of social cohesion. Overall results suggest that the programme contributed to integration of Colombians in the hosting community through increases in personal agency, attitudes accepting diversity, confidence in institutions, and social participation. However, while having no impact for the Ecuadorian population. There were no negative impacts of the programme on indicators or domains analysed. Although we are not able to specifically identify mechanisms, we hypothesize that these impacts are driven by joint targeting, messaging around social inclusion and through interaction between nationalities at mandated monthly nutrition trainings.


Elsa Valli; Amber Peterman; Melissa Hidrobo

The methods used to identify beneficiaries of programmes aiming to address persistent poverty and shocks are subject to frequent policy debates. Relying on panel data from Niger, this paper analyses the performance of different targeting methods that are widely used by development and humanitarian actors and explores how they can be applied as part of an adaptive social protection (ASP) system. The methods include proxy-means testing (PMT), household economy analysis (HEA), geographical targeting, and combined methods. Results show that PMT performs better in identifying persistently poor households, while HEA performs better in identifying transiently food insecure households. Geographical targeting is particularly efficient in responding to food crises, which tend to be largely covariate in nature. Combinations of geographical, PMT, and HEA approaches may be used as part of an efficient and scalable ASP system. Results motivate the consolidation of data across programmes, which can support the application of alternative targeting methods tailored to programme-specific objectives.


Pascale Schnitzer

The productive impacts of transfer programmes have received increased attention. However, little is known about such effects in emergency and crisis settings. Even less is known about whether transfer type – a food basket or a cash grant – influences the productive potential of such transfers. Theory suggests that, while cash transfers can relieve liquidity constraints associated with investments, subsidized food provision, by acting as a form of insurance, may prevent households from retreating to conservative income-generating strategies during volatile periods. Using a randomized field experiment in Yemen, we contrast the effects of transfer modality. The results demonstrate a modest productive impact of both modalities and suggest a role for both liquidity and price risk channels. Cash transfer recipients invested relatively more in activities with higher liquidity requirements (livestock), while food recipients incorporated higher-return crops into their agricultural portfolios.


Benjamin Schwab

Unicef Research Blogs

(2018-06-05) Imagine you work for UNICEF in Lebanon. Your team has the challenging task of ensuring that half a million displaced Syrian children who fled the war in their home countr ...


Participants list
Participants List - Evidence on social protection in contexts of fragility
Briefing note
Workshop Agenda - Evidence on social protection in contexts of fragility


Workshop on evidence on social protection in contexts of fragility and forced displacement