UN Barbados, OECS launch US$4.75-million social protection programme

The United Nations Barbados and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States recently launched a US$4.75-million Joint Programme for Social Protection in the Eastern Caribbean as the subregion geared for the beginning of 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which began on Monday, June.

(File photo)

The progamme will span two years as part of a pilot and will require collaboration between five UN agencies, the governments of Barbados and Saint Lucia, and the OECS Commission

Entitled “Universal Adaptive Social Protection to Enhance Resilience and Acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Eastern Caribbean”, the programme aims to increase coverage of social protection during times of crisis, including tropical storms and hurricanes, as well as enhance the Eastern Caribbean’s resilience to future health-related, economic and climate shocks.

While speaking to an online audience, United Nations Resident Coordinator Didier Trebucq explained that despite the various governments’ attempts to “leave no one behind”, many people in the Caribbean are experiencing a “new normal” that included unexpected job losses, the inability to access social services, and even failure to feed their families.

(Photo: Caribbean News Service)

These challenges, he argued, threaten the region’s long-term development and also erode gains countries have made towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And though regional investments in social protection had reaped significant development gains over the years, Trebucq pointed out that recurrent climatic 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.

“More specifically, the fund will support the build-out of a clear regional implementation plan for social protection…”

— Dr Carlene Radix, head of health and acting head of human and social cluster, OECS Commission

“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,” Trebucq maintained.

Addressing COVID-19 challenges

The social protection initiative comes at a time when Caribbean countries are grappling with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which has revealed inefficiencies and inequity in the region’s economies. With this in mind, the programme has a COVID-19 component that will help countries tackle challenges associated with the virus.

In Barbados, for example, the programme will focus on the country’s National Insurance Scheme’s information management, monitoring and outreach in order to meet the increasing demand for unemployment benefits resulting from COVID-19 job losses.

The National Insurance Scheme building in Barbados (File photo)

Welcoming the initiative as comprehensive, Barbados’s Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde said that while working 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. 

In St Lucia, the programme will enhance the Public Assistance Programme to extend COVID-19 support to the most vulnerable persons, as well as improve data collection and other COVID-19-related analysis. It will also have a gender-responsiveness component.

“Saint Lucia fully embraces and endorses this theme as we feel that the social protection system is designed to better anticipate and respond to shocks can play an important role in building the resilience of vulnerable households,” the island’s Minister of Equity, Social Justice, Local Government and Empowerment, Lenard Montoute, said while commending the initiative.

St Lucia’s Minister of Equity, Social Justice, Local Government and Empowerment Lenard Montoute (Photo: Twitter @votespider)

Long-term goals

Over the next two years, both organisations are expecting the joint initiative will better equip Barbados and St Lucia to respond to crises, improve the islands’ disaster risk management capacity, and strengthen climate change adaptation policies. They will also implement financing strategies to ensure the sustainability of social protection and universal coverage.

At the end of the pilot, UN Barbados and the OECS will seek to replicate the social protection model throughout the Eastern Caribbean.

“More specifically, the fund will support the build-out of a clear regional implementation plan for social protection which will learn from the examples set in Saint Lucia and Barbados as we move forward,” Dr Carlene Radix, head of health and acting head of human and social cluster at the OECS Commission, shared.

She added that the joint initiative will provide new ways for collaboration and contribute to the development of an adaptive and universal social protection system through integrated policy development, programme design and implementation.

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 get the best results and encourage partnerships with developmental organisations.