In Senegal, A Safety Net System Designed to Break the Cycle of Poverty

June 20, 2016

Story Highlights
  • Safety net programs help improve the lives of poor households by helping them invest in their children's health and education, and protect them from crises and shocks.
  • A national safety net system in Senegal integrates existing social programs and help target the most vulnerable households.
  • Adjustments to the safety net system is currently underway to help the poorest respond to regular crises.

FATICK, June 20, 2016 – Fatick, a three-hour drive from Senegal’s capital Dakar, is one of the regions hard hit by poverty. In a small community made up of mud brick homes and thatched roofs, we met Mariame Aidara’s family of eight children. Her husband has been out of work for two years now and the cash that she’s receiving from the government is helping buy food, pay for medical bills, and cover school supplies for her family.

Mariame is one of the beneficiaries of a conditional cash transfer program that was established by the Government of Senegal in order to provide a safety net for the country’s most vulnerable households. She and other beneficiaries receive 25,000 West African CFA Francs, the equivalent of $50 every quarter for five years on the condition that she ensures that her children attend school.  

Establishing a National Social Safety Net System

Senegal has established several safety net programs for its poorest households, ranging from free school lunches, food assistance, support to the elderly and persons with disability, and cash transfers for the chronically poor. All of these programs were designed to improve the lives of poor households, help them invest in their human capital, and protect them from shocks. But until recently, these programs had been limited in scope and not always effective in targeting the most vulnerable.

In 2014, the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest, approved a $40.5 million credit to support the government in establishing a national social safety net system.  The project supported the design of an important tool to integrate existing safety net programs – the National Unique Registry. The registry combines geographical targeting with a community-driven process to identify the poorest households. It then conducts a proxy-means test to evaluate their poverty status. Mariame for example, was pre-identified by a community committee in Fatick, and the test confirmed her status as a potential beneficiary of this optimized system.

The information about the poorest households collected by the registry can be used to target beneficiaries for social programs – including the government’s national conditional cash transfer program that Mariame benefits from, as well as the universal health coverage program, the national nutrition program, and productive programs. By early 2016, there were over 280,000 households in the registry. Of these, around 180,000 are already benefiting from the national conditional cash transfer program.

Additional tools were also developed to improve the overall system and the impacts on extreme poverty. In an effort to secure cash transfers and make them more accessible, an innovative payment mechanism was set up. Since April 2016, some 30,000 households have been receiving their cash transfers through mobile phones via a mobile payment operator.

Adapting the National Safety Net System to Respond to Crises

The World Bank is part of a Social Protection Inter-Agency Board that’s working to link safety net programs with humanitarian response efforts.  Development practitioners are now looking at how cash transfers can be used more strategically as a common tool in responding to humanitarian crises.  In Senegal, $11 million additional financing was mobilized (through the Adaptive Social Protection Program, supported by the UK’s Department for International Development) to adjust the current social safety net system so it can be used to respond to regular crises. 

Adjustments include temporary interventions to address periods of crises for vulnerable households and prevent negative coping mechanisms that jeopardize their future and that of their children, as well as connecting the poorest households to programs that help increase their productivity and diversify their source of income, making them more resilient to future shocks.

The National Unique Registry now includes households who are potentially vulnerable (in addition to the most chronically poor who are current beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program), so that they are easily identified during crises. An emergency contingency plan that includes an early warning system is also under construction. The early warning system will trigger a pre-defined set of temporary interventions and a financing strategy to respond to specific shocks or crises.

"Everyone deserves a better life. For a country that has had its fair share of climate-related and economic shocks, a robust safety net system can help the poorest invest in their children’s well-being, build resilience in the face of a crisis, and develop a sustainable livelihood – all of which are critical to breaking the cycle of poverty," says Aline Coudouel, Senior Economist on Social Protectection and Labor for the World Bank.