World Bank Flash: Close the Gap - Safety Nets Work

April 18, 2012

April 18, 2012 “Safety nets can transform people’s lives and provide a foundation for inclusive growth without busting budgets. Effective safety net coverage overcomes poverty and promotes economic opportunity and gender equality by helping people find jobs, cope with economic shocks, and improve the health, education, and well-being of their children.”
--World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick
Countries have struggled to protect their most vulnerable citizens from the negative impacts of ongoing global financial volatility and food and fuel price hikes.  Affordable, efficient, and sustainable social safety net programs–including cash transfers, food assistance, public works programs, and fee waivers–are key tools to protect people, both in response to crises and to address persistent poverty.
Yet in many developing countries, safety nets are insufficient or non-existent.  At least 60 percent of people in developing countries -- and nearly 80 percent in the world’s poorest countries -- lack effective safety net coverage.  Sixty six million children around the world go to school hungry and struggle to concentrate and learn, a deficit that can be addressed with school feeding programs for the poorest. More than 2.8 million newborns die in the first week of their lives. Many of these deaths can be prevented by providing more pre- and post-natal care for mothers and their children. Food insecurity leads to greater family conflict and divorce rates.
There is a need to close the gap in safety net coverage for the poorest countries and poorest populations. There is growing evidence that effective safety nets can boost income, increase school attendance, improve nutrition, encourage the wider use of health services, and provide job opportunities for poor people.  Well-designed programs such as Bolsa Familia in Brazil, Opportunidades in Mexico, or the Productive Safety Nets Program in Ethiopia, typically cost countries as little as half a percent of GDP. Development and finance ministers will be discussing investing in safety nets at the next Development Committee meeting on Saturday, April 21.
The World Bank supports the building and strengthening of safety nets and other social protection and labor (SPL) programs in developing countries as a central part of our mission to reduce poverty through sustainable, equitable, and inclusive growth. The Bank’s new Social Protection and Labor Strategy 2012-2022: Resilience, Equity, and Opportunity calls for helping countries invest in stronger SPL systems and improve the quality and reach of safety nets and other SPL programs in four areas:

  • First, extending coverage to the poorest countries and poorest and most vulnerable people, where the needs are greatest.
  • Second, building a coherent and integrated portfolio of national SPL policies and programs that help people deal with multiple risks, and can be scaled up or down in response to crises.
  • Third, increasing access to jobs and economic opportunities, with a strong focus on investing in early childhood development and in workers’ skills and productivity.
  • Fourth, emphasizing evidence-based action and South-South sharing of knowledge of what works.

World Bank Group support for safety nets and other SPL programs reached $11.5 billion in 83 countries during the last decade. In response to the global financial, food, and fuel crises, the Bank almost tripled its SPL financing from an annual average of $1.6 billion in 1998-2008 to an annual average of $4.2 billion in 2009-2011. Over the last six years, Bank-financed safety net projects have directly benefited more than 267 million people, mainly through conditional cash transfer programs (94.5 million), other cash assistance transfers (78.5 million), and public works (12.8 million).
Today, 80 percent of developing countries have plans to strengthen their safety nets to better respond to future crises. With Bank support, countries are demonstrating strong results such as:

  • In Bangladesh, 850,000 girls are still in the classroom thanks to cash stipends for schooling.
  • The Philippines has responded to food price hikes with cash transfers to over 2 million households.
  • Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Nets Program reaches nearly 8 million people so they have enough food to eat during times of drought.
  • In Brazil, almost 25 percent of the population now gets cash support, which helps more children stay in school and graduate.
Media Contacts
In World Bank Group
Melanie Mayhew
Tel : +1 (202) 458-7891
Natalia Cieslik
Tel : +1 (202) 458-9369