Lifeline for vulnerable Cambodians as poverty rises during COVID-19 pandemic
As a result of the pandemic, modeling by UNDP and the Ministry of Economy & Finance predicted that poverty could double to 17.6% and GDP fall to -4.11%. But with stimulus spending including social protection economic growth improves by 1% and poverty by more than 4%. With these this in mind, the government, alongside partners which include UNDP and UNICEF, decided to strengthen the level of social protection in the country. The UN agencies, and other partners, focused on supporting the new “Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households”, by providing the digital tools needed to ensure that almost 700,000 households listed on the scheme’s database receive funds in a cashless form, either through their phone or via a card.
In Cambodia, the shrinking economy, hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, has affected all population groups, but particularly the most vulnerable. The objective of the program - a first-of-its-kind government scheme, managed with digital tools supplied by the UNDP – is ensuring that the poorest receive a level of social protection. This project clearly shows how to operationalize the Leaving No One Behind principle but also the innovative spirit of the 2030 Agenda using technology and innovation as a means of implementation. The practice contributes to building back better from the pandemic, given that the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has prioritized the emergency responses for the poor households and workers significantly affected by the impact of COVID-19.
The UN’s research indicated that an emergency social protection program would significantly improve both economic growth and the well-being of the most vulnerable – showing the interlinkages of the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. The program contributes to various SDGs, in particular SDG 1.3 on Social Protection systems and measures - SDG 2.2 on ending all forms of malnutrition - SDG 3.8 on Universal Health Coverage - SDG 16.6 on the development of effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.
The UN family supported the Government in rolling out its first social assistance cash transfer programme to all Cambodians living below the national poverty line, as identified by the ID Poor program. This build on GIZ’s long term support that had helped the RGC to establish a fully digital ID Poor platform. The UN’s role, led by UNICEF and UNDP, was to provide the support to help Government rapidly upscale from a series of small pilot programs to one that covered all people below the poverty line. The UN support included providing tablet computers for all Government staff working on ID Poor registration, down to community level, and the necessary training and support. Under the programme, each eligible and registered household receives either $20 or $30 a month depending on poverty status (i.e., Poor 1 or Poor 2), as a basic benefit. In addition, the household receives top-up amounts for members of vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children under 2, the elderly, people with disabilities and people living with HIV. The UN took the opportunity for medium and longer term building of social protection and insurance in Cambodia. With the World Bank, UNDP is working on improving the poor identification process and at the same time helping the Royal Government of Cambodia to move to a more universal and rights-based system, starting with pensions for the aged. The UN is also working closely with the Government to measure the social and economic impact of the cash transfers so far, to help build a solid business case for further social protection investments. Resources: The Government spent about US$200 million for the cash transfer program running from late June to Dec 2020. The Government also allocates a budget of US$200 million for 2021.
The early, collective focus of the UN support has accelerated the expansion of the country’s nascent social protection system as the core of emergency response to build back better for the SDGs. The UN support includes identifying policy options for social protection measures, designing the implementation of cash transfers to poor households, identifying and registering poor households, and monitoring and evaluating the social protection programmes. As a result of this effort the Government officially announced that 700,000 poor households, which comprise approximately 2.8 million people, have access to the cash transfer programme. This was the first time that the RGC could quickly scale up the social protection system to support poor households based on the IDPoor system and achieve remarkable results within a short timeframe - making a significant difference for poor and vulnerable households.
Innovative methods of engagement include the use of digital technology which was crucial to enable a rapid expansion and identification of eligible households, including returning migrants and those who have recently experienced Covid-19 induced income shocks. Moreover, the use of mobile money payment for swiftly transferring cash to the eligible poor and vulnerable households helped protect the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic.
To ensure accountability and sustainability, the Government has established a Technical Working Group to manage and monitor the implementation of the Cash Transfer (CT) program. The TWG composes of senior officials from relevant line ministries involved in the program such as Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and National Social Protection Council. Building on the success to respond to the pandemic induced crisis, the Government is working on developing a family package social assistance program to succeed this CT program. The program is likely to stimulate a consolidation and scale-up of social protection system in the country. The UN also builds on other programs in place such as the UN joint programme (ILO, UNICEF, WHO) contributing to the nation-wide rollout of the comprehensive National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF) which was established for the first time in Cambodia.
Together with the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations identified social protection and recovery of poor and near-poor households as an immediate priority of the COVID-19 response, and a key component of the UN’s Socio-economic Response Framework. The Government will continue the cash transfer program for the first three months of 2021. Depending on the socio-economic situation, the Government will consider continuing the program after the first three months of 2021.
SDGS & Targets
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Deliverables & Timeline
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The project is implemented at national and sub-national levels: in the capital and 24 provinces, covering both urban and rural areas.