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FEATURE STORYMarch 10, 2022

Empowering Ethiopian Women for Climate Resilience through the Urban Productive Safety Net

The World Bank

Photo: Berhan Teklehaimanot, World Bank


  • The World Bank is supporting Ethiopia in implementing productive social safety net programs that support vulnerable households, particularly women to cope with economic and climate-related shocks.
  • One of these programs, the Urban Productive Safety Net Project (UPSNP), is providing urban poor households access to employment and livelihood development which also have an impact on their environment. Launched in 2016, it has benefited 604,000 urban poor people in 11 cities.
  • Recently, it has been expanded to up to 84 cities under the new Urban Productive Safety Net and Jobs Project. It supports households to engage in climate and gender-sensitive public works and business development activities to improve their social and economic well-being as well as their communities’ environment.

Ethiopia is progressing tremendously in mobilizing nation-wide consciousness on greening both urban and rural areas to curb climate change induced disasters. Communities’ ability to cope with climate disasters depends on their socio-economic status, socio-cultural norms, access to resources, agency and voice.

Specific groups within communities are more vulnerable than others as a result of their poverty levels, education, and gender. Urban areas are increasingly becoming densely populated with some areas becoming dumping grounds for toxic waste. Residents of marginalized areas with steep slopes and flood-prone river basins are often the ultra poor, many of which are female headed households.

Floodings caused by clogged drainages due to a lack of urban waste management affects disproportionately households who dwell close to river beds. The urban poor, and particularly women, are often unable to safeguard their environment and well-being, including due to their engagement in informal economic activities to meet daily needs.

Climate Change Responsive Safety Net Programs Make Women More Resilient

The World Bank’s Urban Productive Safety Net Project launched in 2006, is providing urban poor households access to employment and improved livelihoods which also have an impact on their environment. It has benefited 604,000 urban poor people in 11 cities.

The Urban Productive Safety Net Program combines economic, social and climate-smart activities in a way that it improves the lives of participating families, communities and also the environment.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Ayuba Sani Hussein
Team Leader of the UPSNP

Recently, it has been expanded to up to 84 cities under the new Urban Productive Safety Net and Jobs Project, to support households with at least one able-bodied person to engage in climate and gender-sensitive public works while households without able-bodied persons receive direct cash transfers and are linked to community health insurance and other basic social services. Over 60% of the beneficiaries engaged in public works are women. Inclusiveness is institutionalized through clear rules and operational procedures, a minimum quota for women, flexible work modalities, and training on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and  mind-set change.

Urban Greening and Agriculture: The Role of Women

Public works are selected by the communities in collaboration with the city administration focusing on improving the local environment and productive use of the scarce spaces in cities. Activities include flood protection, reforestation and watershed management; waste management and urban sanitation (including public toilets); urban greenery and beautification; urban agriculture; and social infrastructure. Urban waste management work such as cleaning roadside ditches and illegal dumping grounds has improved not only the environment of the participants, but is making their neighbourhoods safer, cleaner and more conducive for raising families. 

The World Bank
Photo: Urban Agriculture through UPSNP, Andrea Vermehren, November 3, 2021, Addis Abeba

Furthermore, participants of urban agriculture public works learn about preparing the soil, planting and harvesting as well as composting and organic fertilization. Groups working in urban agriculture harvest together and distribute the profits among themselves which encourages them to continue the activities even after the program ends, building on the country’s long tradition of collective work.

Through the public works, women like Berhane Dawit, are able to improve their lives, their environment and their mental health through income security, stronger social cohesion, as well as cleaner, safer neighborhoods. These positive impacts are also confirmed by the program’s impact evaluation. Berhane, who recently retuned from working in Saudi Arabia says “I am happy, because now I am with my daughter and husband. But sad, as I came empty-handed from this foreign country and had to move in with my in-laws. No matter how kind they were to me, it was depressing for me to be dependent”.

The World Bank
Photos: Government archive

Curbing Climate Change and Enhancing Sustainable Livelihoods

Berhane’s journey as part of the UPSNP didn’t just stop at getting monthly income support through the public works over three years. She joined a group of 30 women who grow vegetables as part of the urban agriculture public works. That, combined with entrepreneurship training and a livelihood grant of US$ 500 per family helped her develop a more resilient flow of income for the future. After graduating from the program she used her savings and the sale of produce to propel herself out of poverty and started leasing some land. This is a big step in a country where men and women are legally equal but social norms persist which are  less accepting of women leasing land in their own name. “When we graduated, I was able to use my savings, my livelihood grant and my share from the group’s earnings to lease a plot of land in my hometown Dilla, in the south of Ethiopia. Now, I have a coffee and vegetable farm which provides a constant income to cover my family's needs and continued savings. This is all thanks to the program. I am a good example that given a chance, we women can advance in economic growth”.


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