It is 8 AM. The winter sun begins to appear over the gray-green mass of trees above the village of Tritriva in Madagascar’s central highlands. The courtyard of a stone church is already filled with women, many holding still-sleeping children in their arms. They have assembled for the first time in two months to receive a cash payment from the Malagasy state.
The women are poor and all live on less than $2 per day. The money they receive from the government amounts to about a third of their cash income for the two months in between each payment: it will go a long way in helping them support their families for the rest of the winter.
Initiated by the Madagascar government, with support from the World Bank, the payments are part of a new program implemented by the Fonds d'Intervention pour le Développement (FID) to combat poverty in rural Madagascar and provide sustainable pathways to human development.
social safety nets
Abebech, a single mother of three, in Arsi Negelle district in Ethiopia heads out for another shift at the construction site for gully embankments, part of a public works program offered by the Government of Ethiopia to address food insecurity.
Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) reaches an estimated 9 million people across the regions of Amhara, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region, Tigray, Afar, Somali, Dire Dawa, and Harar. Food or cash payments are provided to very poor households. Payments are made in return for community work known as ‘public works’ – with participants working on soil and water conservation, construction of schools, health posts, childcare centers and road building. The work is scheduled usually after harvest season to ensure food security and enough money to carry through seasonal food shortages.
Poor households in Ethiopia face a series of economic, social and environmental risks and vulnerabilities with risks often higher for women. While women help with farming and related work, they also receive unequal access to resources, financing, training, and are also more vulnerable to household-related shocks -- illness, death of household member, drought, flood, price shocks, job loss, loss or death of livestock. Women in rural areas typically received poor education and are paid lower for the same type of work as their male counterparts.
As a child, I loved fire engines.
In this, of course, I wasn’t any different from millions of other young boys across the world. I loved the bright red machines of my Calcutta youth – which sped to the scene of a fire, with shiny bells clanging, firemen quickly unrolling the long hoses, connecting them to the water hydrant at the roadside, and then spraying down the conflagration with great jets of cooling water.
So what does this have to do with social safety nets?
The Bank said today it is mobilizing over $7 billion for health and education to help poor countries battle threats to their social services during the crisis. The new health and education numbers follow an announcement earlier this week that its investments in social protection programs, including social safety nets, are expected to rise dramatically for 2009-2010 to $12 billion.
As part of this announcement, the Bank released a report titled, Averting a Human Crisis During the Global Downturn, which examines how previous financial downturns affected countries’ social protection programs.
Crisis Can Affect Social Services Programs
Evidence from previous crises in Argentina, Indonesia, Thailand, and Russia shows that governments were forced to cut health services as a result of shrinking budgets and that returning health spending to pre-crisis levels took up to 10-15 years to achieve, according to the report.
"We cannot afford a 'lost' generation of people as a result of this crisis," said Joy Phumaphi, the World Bank's Vice President for Human Development and former Health Minister for Botswana. "It is essential that developing countries and aid donors act now to protect and expand their spending on health, education and other basic social services and target these efforts to make sure they reach the poorest and most vulnerable groups."
AIDS Treatment Programs in Jeopardy
The report also warns that according to preliminary findings from 69 countries, which offer treatment to 3.4 million people on antiretroviral treatment (ART), suggests that 8 countries now face shortages of antiretroviral drugs or other disruptions to AIDS treatment. Twenty-two countries, home to more than 60 percent of people worldwide on AIDS treatment , expect to face disruptions over the course of the year.
"We cannot afford a 'lost' generation of people as a result of this crisis," Phumaphi said. "It is essential that developing countries and aid donors act now to protect and expand their spending on health, education and other basic social services and target these efforts to make sure they reach the poorest and most vulnerable groups."