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Social protection in the face of disaster

Social protection in the face of disaster

ST LUCIA, 3 October, 2018 - In the Caribbean region there is a critical need for social protection systems that function efficiently during and after emergencies. What exactly does this ‘shock responsive’ social protection look like? This was the key question explored during a recent regional skills-building workshop in St Lucia.

The 27-28 September meeting in Castries, St Lucia was co-hosted by UNICEF, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission the Government of St Lucia. It brought together social development and disaster management experts from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines to share ideas and experiences in a region hugely vulnerable to natural disasters and economic downturns.

 A new way of thinking

According to Muriel Mafico, Deputy Representative of UNICEF’s Eastern Caribbean Area Office, a new way of thinking is required. “The challenges that need to be addressed are complex and call for different strategies and partnerships.  We need to identify creative ways of working together to strengthen resilience.” 

Donovan Williams, Permanent Secretary in St Lucia’s Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports and Local Government said that there was already a good foundation to build on. “Fortunately for us we are not scrabbling in the dark searching for solutions… [W]e have a range of experiences and expertise that can help us shape the desired response… What we learned and discussed today we must be ready to put into action tomorrow.”

Participants focused on exploring the efficacy of cash transfers, which help the most vulnerable get back on their feet in the aftermath of crises. They were used in British Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma and after Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica in September 2017.

 6,000 children better off

In Dominica, UNICEF and the World Food Programme supported the government in a Joint Emergency Cash Transfer programme which provided child grants to the families of over 6,000 children. It was agreed that these models could help explore how national public assistance programmes can be improved, and ultimately scaled-up, as an example of effective south-south cooperation.   

Grace-Ann Cornwall, Head of the OECS Social Development Unit, reinforced the importance of social protection as “critical to helping the poor and vulnerable to manage the risks they face” but noted that the lack of data to inform decision making limited “the ability of the system to respond rapidly to the impacts of shocks.”

There were a series of next steps laid out to address these concerns, a number centred on strengthening data gathering and information management. The idea of a regional ID system has been mooted, along with the development of social registers and widely-accessible digital data bases.  These would help to ensure that the most vulnerable are identified, included and targeted effectively - not left out in the cold when disaster strikes.   





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