Ehsaas Emergency Cash initiative, launched by the Pakistani government to extend financial support to people economically most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis, has received international recognition.
The World Bank has just released a report on “global social protection responses to Covid-19”. This report is called the “living paper” and it is a partnership effort involving 18 coauthors and a large number of contributors; the paper presents a 650-page volume and accompanying database documenting how countries and territories are planning, implementing, or completing social protection measures in the context of the pandemic.
The report states that there has been “an exponential growth in social protection measures between March 20, 2020 and May 14, 2021 and that a total of 3,333 social protection measures have been planned or implemented in 222 countries or territories”.
With its Ehsaas Emergency program, which is led by Special Assistant to PM on Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar, Pakistan ranks 4th globally in terms of the number of people covered and 3rd globally in terms of percentage of population covered amongst those that covered over 100 million people.
World Bank recognizes #EhsaasEmergencyCash among top 4 social protection interventions globally in terms of number of people covered. Pakistan is 3rd globally in terms of percentage of population covered. https://t.co/4XJRNzLF3T
— Sania Nishtar (@SaniaNishtar) May 15, 2021
WB has stated that Pakistan is among only “select countries have attained impressive six-digit levels” in this regard.
According to the report, Pakistan’s Ehsaas also ranked high amongst the programs that did well in terms of Planned versus actual coverage rates.
According to the report, most of the social protection measures are provided as social assistance. These represent 55% of global programs and are the predominant form of support in most regions. Among social assistance measures, cash transfers remain the premier instrument. A total of 734 cash-based measures have been planned or implemented in 186 countries.
The highest level of spending in lower-middle-income countries category is observed in Mongolia Zimbabwe, Bolivia, and Pakistan.
One of the special features of the report is on delivery matters. According to the report, globally, there were essentially four ways to find and enroll new beneficiaries, the first of which was to simply add households to the list from an existing social registry.
Pakistan adopted an innovative hybrid targeting approach to enroll new beneficiaries combining emergency assistance for the known vulnerable with demand-based support for the “new poor”. Requests were sought through an 8171 SMS short code service and web-portal.
Data analytics enabled eligibility ascertainment, using unique national identification numbers, and drawing on the National Socio-economic Registry and wealth proxies (travel, taxes, billing, assets ownership data and government employment status). The system was end-to-end data-driven, fully automated, rule-based, transparent, and politically neutral. Payments were biometrically verified.
Under Ehsaas Emergency Cash, Pakistani government delivered cash stipends of Rs. 12,000 to 15 million households last year, which meant helping over 100 million people or half the country’s population, representing the largest and most extensive social protection intervention ever in the history of the country.
Digital capabilities established over the past year as part of Ehsaas, Pakistan’s new poverty alleviation framework, were adapted to deliver Ehsaas Emergency Cash, in particular, a new biometric payment system, a demand side SMS based request seeking platform and a new wealth-profiling big data analytics mechanism.
The legacy of this programme is not just short-term relief. Ehsaas Emergency Cash will be an important component of the redesign of social protection, post COVID-19 and will help in the great global reimagination of social welfare envisaged in Ehsaas, said an official statement.
In terms of global experience sharing, the case of Pakistan provides useful lessons for other countries that utilize unique personal identification systems. It shows that by combining phones, internet connectivity, national IDs and commercial payment systems, a digital and innovative demand-based social protection system can be created to enable those in distress to seek social support during crises.
Ehsaas Emergency Cash also demonstrated how cash transfer programmes can be deployed to counter socio-economic fallouts due to external shocks such as COVID-19 which present a long-term predicament. The approach can also address rising inequality and advance attainment of SDGs in a post COVID-19 world.