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When Climate Affects Social Protection


Recurrent food crises and global economic shocks pose a serious threat to the success of social protection programmes. More localised shocks are also increasingly impacting the lives and wellbeing of poor households. These shocks include floods, droughts and hurricanes and a wider pool of climate-change related events and natural disasters.

Using the Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) as a case study, researchers from the DFID-funded Adaptive Social Protection Programme (ASP) based at the Institute of Development Studies have been studying the impact of climate change-induced shocks on social protection programmes, seeking to demonstrate the importance of integrating social protection and climate change adaptation at the policy and programme level.

The PSNP in Ethiopia has long been regarded as a very promising model for social protection programmes for Africa. Set up in 2004 by the Government of Ethiopia  with the aim of reducing chronic food insecurity,  the programme today targets approximately eight million chronic food insecure people. It has become the  largest social protection programme in Sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa.

In anIDS Working Paper published this month, ASP researchers show that despite the PSNP contributing to improve household food security and wellbeing, the positive effects of the programme are not robust enough to shield households from the impacts of severe shocks. Drought especially had a significant impact on households’ food security and wellbeing.

Protecting progress through social protection

These findings have critical implications. They show that it takes time for households to become sufficiently resilient. During this period, it is essential to protect progress, especially when severe climate or economic shocks threaten to reverse gains.

This finding highlights why humanitarian relief may still be necessary in Ethiopia. Different social protection instruments achieve different objectives, and these should not be conflated or confused. While the PSNP aims to smooth consumption and build household assets in order to reduce chronic poverty, humanitarian relief provides short-term protection to people who are vulnerable to transitory shocks. Poor and vulnerable Ethiopians do not need one or other of these – they need both.

About the Adaptive Social Protection programme

This research is part of the wider awareness raising and advocacy effort implemented by the ASP programme to encourage greater integration and knowledge sharing among the Social Protection, Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction communities of practice with the objective to strengthen policies that help poor people escape poverty.

The ASP Programme at IDS believes that by working better together, these communities have the potential to create tools and spaces that strengthen household resilience and make better contributions to sustainable development.


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