Bridgetown, (2 June 2020) As Eastern Caribbean countries brace for the 2020 hurricane season which officially started yesterday, the United Nations Barbados and OECS has launched a US$4.75 M Joint Programme for Social Protection in the Eastern Caribbean to expand coverage of social protection during times of crisis, including tropical storms and hurricanes, while enhancing resilience to future health-related, economic and climate shocks.
The initiative entitled: “Universal Adaptive Social Protection to Enhance Resilience and Acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Eastern Caribbean, was officially launched on Friday, May 29, by United Nations Resident Coordinator, Didier Trebucq and the UN Sub-regional team for Barbados and the OECS. The two-year pilot is the first Joint SDG Fund- supported initiative to be implemented in the region and entails collaboration between five UN agencies, the governments of Barbados and Saint Lucia and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission.
Addressing an online audience, Mr. Trebucq said despite governments’ best intentions to “leave no one behind”, many persons in the Caribbean were experiencing a “new normal” that included unexpected job losses, the inability to access social services and even failure to feed their families, which threaten the region’s long-term development, and also erode gains countries have made towards the achievement of the SDGs. He added that while regional investments in social protection had reaped significant development gains over the years, recurrent climate and socio-economic threats, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, demands a response beyond “traditional approaches.” The UN head noted that inequalities and gaps in social protection must be addressed while mitigating the risks from the 2020 hurricane season.
“It is about bridging the gap between traditional social protection and disaster risk management by introducing innovative approaches, with a view to contribute to accelerating progress towards the SDGs. It is about how we reach those people most in need during times of crisis,” he maintained. Over the long-term, the joint initiative will strengthen social protection systems in Barbados and Saint Lucia, through innovative and evidence-based management and operational tools, and policy support. The intention is to replicate this model across the Eastern Caribbean in partnership with the OECS and, more specifically, through the development of an adaptive/ shock-responsive Social Protection Strategy and Implementation Framework.
To meet the increasing demand for unemployment benefits due to COVID-19 job losses, focus will be on enhancing Barbados’ National Insurance Scheme vis-à-vis information management, monitoring and outreach, and gauging impacts on its financial sustainability. The broader response will address development of a comprehensive and coherent social protection system designed to respond to shocks, including storms and hurricanes, and achieve universal coverage over time. For St. Lucia, COVID-19 assistance is being sought in enhancing the Public Assistance Programme to extend support to the most vulnerable persons; as well in data collection and other COVID-19-related analysis. Macro level emphasis will be on implementing social and disaster risk management policies and legislation with emphasis on gender-responsiveness and integrated service delivery.
By the end of the two-year joint program, it is anticipated that the social protection landscape in these two countries would be better equipped to prepare and respond to crises and strengthened with disaster risk management and climate change adaptation policies. Financing strategies to foster sustainability and universal coverage should also be in place.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs of Barbados, the Hon. Cynthia Forde, welcomed the comprehensive initiative, indicating that while struggling to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, deficiencies were discovered, in Barbados’ system, that needed to be rectified. “What we required was a more adaptive social protection system that would reliably withstand impacts the likes of economic downturn, climate change and of course public health crises. That is why this project, which we considered necessary even before COVID 19, has now become critical, “she maintained.
Saint Lucia’s Minister of Equity, Social Justice, Local Government and Empowerment, Lenard Montoute, also lauded the emphasis on adaptive social protection given the region’s high vulnerability to multiple hazards and unavoidable consequences of climate change. “Saint Lucia fully embraces and endorses this theme as we feel that the social protection system that is designed to better anticipate and respond to shocks can play an important role in building the resilience of vulnerable households,” he asserted.
Also addressing the launch was Head of Health and Acting Head of Human and Social Cluster, Social and Sustainable Development Division OECS, Dr. Carlene Radix, who told the audience the Joint SDG programme provides news ways for collaboration and contributes to the development of an adaptive and universal social protection system, through integrated policy development , programme design and implementation. The Fund, she explained, “more specifically will support the build-out of a clear regional implementation plan for social protection which will learn from the examples set in St. Lucia and Barbados as we move forward.”
The issue of social protection relative to migrant populations was raised during the Q&A segment of the launch. World Food Programme, Head of Office for the Caribbean, Regis Chapman, confirmed that this was a feature of the program design. “This year, before the official start of the hurricane season the Caribbean already has two named storms and a forecast for an above normal hurricane season. So, this combination of both COVID-19, and the natural hazards that the sub-region is exposed to, makes this topic of mobility and migration an important one as we look at social protection in the OECS,” he stated.
Similarly, UNICEF Representative Eastern Caribbean, Aloys Kamuragiye, confirmed that gender equality (SDG 5) was mainstreamed across the entire joint programe, and should contribute significantly to reducing gender inequality. “We all know that women or girls are affected in a disproportionate manner by the different shocks whether they are natural disasters or economic shocks; and we have even seen that COVID-19 affects more women and girls,” he maintained, noting that with women mostly working in the tourism sector, they were impacted more by COVID-19, as in the case of being victims of Gender-based Violence which is also compounded by the pandemic.
Social protection considered one of the most effective instruments in tackling poverty seeks to help countries to accelerate progress toward attainment of the SDGs. To this end, the Joint Programme will leverage the expertise of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) as the two co-lead agencies, as well as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, to maximize the impact of results through a broader coalition of partnership with development partners.
Carol A. Gaskin
Development Coordination Officer, Programme Communications and Advocacy
Resident Coordinator Office
UN Barbados and OECS
Email: carol-ann.gaskin [at] un.org