Protecting social sector spending for children and their families in South and Southeast Asia
Governments, the EU and UNICEF together with international financial institutions gather in Kathmandu to discuss how to make the best use of social sector budgets
In South and Southeast Asia, two of the most disaster-prone regions on earth, economic shocks are the norm. Once-in-a-generation floods in Pakistan in 2022 impacted 33 million people. In Myanmar, protracted armed conflict and a recent devastating cyclone have reversed decades of economic gains. The 2022 Sri Lanka debt default is eroding institutional trust and driving poverty and inequality. All of this following the global COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in over 400 billion hours of lost learning across the Asia-Pacific region, halted the drive for childhood immunization and looks set to initiate a disinvestment in education programmes.
Against this backdrop, the EU-UNICEF Public Finance Facility gathered ministries of finance and key line ministries with oversight of social sectors from six South and Southeast Asian nations in Kathmandu, Nepal on 26-27 June 2023. Joining them were the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Discussions focused on how to ensure social sector spending is made more equitable, efficient and effective and protects the most vulnerable in society, with a spotlight on children and their families.
“While increasing budgets for social sectors is important, the efficiency and equity of the allocation is even more important”
This meeting marks one of the few occasions in which ministries of finance and planning and social sector ministries have gathered to discuss the role of public finance in accelerating results for children and their families in South and Southeast Asia. As such, it marks the conclusion of the initial phase of the EU-UNICEF Public Finance Facility for South and Southeast Asia – a four year programme working with governments in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar in Southeast Asia, and Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia to maximize, prioritize and protect social sector budgets. The work of the solution-oriented facility rests on the recognition that government budgets are the most important public policy instruments for the realization of the rights and well-being of children – and that they need to be protected, especially in times of economic uncertainty. The facility has supported countries with innovative solutions for better monitoring the allocations and spending of social sector budgets, while identifying budget inefficiencies, sources of equity and improvements in budget utilization.
“The South and South-East-Asia Regional exchange provided an excellent platform to officials of central and social sector ministries to frankly share challenges faced by their countries in the way of maintaining and expanding the social protection networks, especially during the difficult period that we are passing through. The lessons learned from each other at this platform will go a long way towards better social protection in these regions. I would like to congratulate EU and UNICEF for arranging such a useful event”
When the facility was founded, the economic outlook across the two regions was promising, with a fiscal and macro environment propitious for meeting resource allocation targets for children and their families. Since then, COVID-19, political turmoil, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, civil unrest and the increase in climate-induced disasters have made the economic outlook much less certain. The regional exchange built on years of prior engagement with governments in the region, galvanizing a sense of urgency to protect social sector spending, and therefore children and their families, even in times of fiscal constraint and external shocks.
“Social sector spending is crucial for human development. Investment in children paves the way for the future of a country. The time to act is now”
- Find out more about the EU-UNICEF Public Finance Facility for South and Southeast Asia.
- Read Where is the fiscal space for children? the EU-UNICEF analysis of budget trends in the education, health and social assistance in the Asia-Pacific Region