By Nirav Patel
The World Bank Group recently published Realizing the Full Potential of Social Safety Nets in Africa, a report that comprehensively covers the status of social safety nets on the continent.
The report indicates that while poverty rates have fallen in Africa over the past decade, with people living on less than $1.90 a day declining from 57 percent to 41 percent in 2013, the number of people living in poverty continues to increase, indicating poverty will remain an obstacle in the region even if Africa continues to exceed growth expectations.
Figure 1 illustrates the tug and pull of people escaping poverty and people falling back in. In part, as the report suggests, this is because many people in the region are vulnerable to “shocks.” Some common shocks include climate or weather related disasters, pandemics, food insecurity, human-caused crises, and economic downturns. These events can often affect people adversely, especially those on the fringe of poverty. As of mid-2016, Africa accounted for 30 percent of the displaced population worldwide, which represents about 20 million people. Of the top 20 countries in the world in terms of hosting the largest displaced populations, eight are in Africa.
Figure 1: Poverty is both chronic and transient
Figure 2 shows that social safety nets have been rapidly expanding in Africa to increase resilience, especially from the aforementioned shocks. According to the report, the average number of new social safety net programs launched in Africa each year rose from seven between 2001 and 2009 to 14 from 2010-2015. Every African country now has at least one social safety net program. The average number of programs per country is 15, ranging from two in the Republic of Congo and Gabon to 56 in Burkina Faso.
Figure 2: More social safety programs have been launched in recent years
The composition of these social safety net programs varies from country to country, as represented in Figure 3. Cash transfers—conditional and unconditional—seem to be the program of choice. Although, as the report suggests, recent studies have offered evidence that cash is being used to improve food security, send children to school, and invest in income generating activities.
Figure 3: The composition of social safety net portfolios is diverse
As a way to move forward, the report emphasizes a move beyond technical and design aspects of social safety net systems toward leveraging political processes, building institutional foundations, as well as improving their longevity and expansion to unlock their potential.