Published on Arab Voices

Adapting an existing project to fight COVID-19 in Yemen

Woman smiles in Yemen. Woman smiles in Yemen.

The Cash for Nutrition program in Yemen, run by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) provides critical resources in the form of conditional cash transfers to Yemen's most vulnerable communities. Supported under the World Bank’s Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) the program requires considerable interaction with recipients, often over several weeks or months. To qualify for payments, cash-for-nutrition beneficiaries must attend nutrition awareness sessions, and cash-for-works recipients must provide labor toward producing community or household assets.

To protect Yemeni communities from the COVID-19 pandemic in almost all the country's 333 districts, the YECRP project needed to introduce measures to ensure the safety of beneficiaries.

All project employees were sensitized to COVID-19 measures, and work environments changed to incorporate personal protective equipment (PPE) and physical distancing. The SFD introduced protocols for sanitizing premises and equipment. The most vulnerable members of the SFD teams, such as pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses, worked from home. And the SFD launched a COVID-19 dashboard, giving easy access to employees on the geographic spread of the virus, corresponding trigger points, and mitigation measures for every district in the country.

One looming question for SFD was whether to expand delivery to new beneficiaries or fall back on existing databases. Expanding horizontally—adding new beneficiaries—required additional financing; vertical expansion—increasing benefit values or duration of assistance—was also challenging. YECRP adopted a mixed approach.

Horizontal Expansion

YECRP added new beneficiaries to the nutrition program as funding became available, resulting benefits to 50,000 new beneficiaries. The SFD team also changed its approach, providing larger payments in fewer cycles to reduce congregating. The team scaled up awareness sessions to focus on household, not community workshops. And, importantly, nutrition educators trained in COVID-19 approaches, including using PPE, and passed this knowledge to households.

In cash-for-works, the SFD added more beneficiaries: 80% of Yemen’s 30 million live in poverty, so expansion is critical. The team faced a choice of waiving, postponing, or maintaining work requirements. With physical distancing in place, SFD chose to maintain work requirements for two key reasons:

  1. Target communities need access to vital services.
  2. With thousands of workers across the country, work conditions are  a massive awareness tool. Laborers wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers, and physical distancing sent strong messages across hundreds of communities and tens of thousands of households, which were underscored by awareness campaigns.

This decision was reinforced through SFD's pipeline of hundreds of new community and household sub-projects, many with approved COVID-19-sensitive Environmental and Social Management Plans (ESMPs). ESMPs highlighted a degree of readiness, with communities assessed and needs identified. Larger projects undertaken by the PWP concentrated on improving access to sanitation services, including public toilets in dense urban areas.

Physical distancing required smaller groups of workers and staggered shifts. On project sites, workers kept 2 meters apart and OHS officers monitored compliance. YECRP's focus on workers aged 18 to 35 ensured the protection of older people.

Vertical Expansion

Supporting smallholder farmers, SFD faced a challenge—expand services to 2,000 new farmers and new districts, or fall back on existing databases of 8,000 farmers, fishers, and livestock breeders? The team chose the latter for three reasons:

  1. It would have taken weeks to compile an assessment and list of potential beneficiaries, while 8,000 farmers had already received knowledge on increasing productivity.
  2. As a result, this large group of trained smallholders were more likely to contribute to food security than an untrained group of 2,000. Given COVID-19’s anticipated impact on food security, it was vital to support as many farmers as possible.
  3. All 8,000 beneficiaries had received help earlier to get a national I.D. and will receive assistance to open bank accounts. Thus far, 88% of smallholder producers have opened a bank account and received an electronic transfer.

Plus, rates of awareness

Aiding this decision was the rate of awareness (R). Having already measured replication (when a farmer who is not being supported replicates a farmer receiving assistance), the team had the systems in place to measure "R" for awareness.

To date, just under 2,000 smallholders have passed on COVID-19 awareness to 42,000 people, achieving an "R" of 1:21. One of the largest modes of transmission was mobile phone.

Vertical expansion enables measuring trends and behavior patterns. In supporting 8,000 producers, the team learned how beneficiaries used the US$300 cash grant: mostly on livelihoods, with 47% of grants spent on materials such as seeds, fodder, or livestock; 28% is used to buy hygiene materials, perhaps a sign of COVID-19 awareness. About 25% of the grant was used to buy food.

This blog is Part I of a two-part series of the impact of COVID-19 on service delivery in Yemen.



Wesam Qaid

Founder, Small Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS) in Yemen

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