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Dr Sania Nishtar shares how social protection can enable resilient recovery

By Our Correspondent
October 14, 2020

Islamabad : The COVID-19 crisis has hit South Asia hard, deepening poverty, exacerbating inequality, and creating new poor. South Asia is expected to have the largest increase in the number of extreme poor due to COVID-19.

It was against this backdrop that a discussion with policymakers from South Asia as well as practitioners, scholars and international experts was held as countries develop plans for economic recovery and building the resilience of households against current and future shocks.

The occasion was the World Bank Group-IMF annual meeting held Tuesday with the PM’s Special Assistant Dr. Sania Nishtar speaking as a panellist on ‘Protecting South Asia’s Poor and Vulnerable Against COVID-19 and Beyond.’ The South Asian event focused on social protection programmes as a cornerstone of relief and longer-term recovery.

Dr. Sania was joined by Special Economic Adviser to the PM of Nepal, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh, Professor of Cornell University and Indian Minister for Textiles and Minister for Women and Child Development. Through an engaging discussion with policymakers, practitioners, scholars and international experts, the panel highlighted the relief efforts in the South Asia region and shared views on how social protection could be designed to reach all and support a resilient recovery and inclusive long-term growth.

Sharing the scale and ambition of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash, Dr. Nishtar said, “The impact of Ehsaas Emergency Cash on ground which meant getting cash into the hands of millions of families at a time of extreme uncertainty was truly humbling. COVID-19 negatively impacted around 160 million people in Pakistan. In response, the government of Pakistan delivered cash assistance to 15 million families in distress.”

Continuing, Dr. Sania said, “Digital capabilities established in 2019 as part of Ehsaas were adapted to deliver Ehsaas Emergency Cash, in particular, a new biometric payment system, a demand side SMS based request seeking platform and a new wealth-profiling big data analytics mechanism.”

Concluding the discussion, Dr. Sania added, “Many challenges were encountered during disbursements. Ehsaas Emergency Cash was rolled out with lockdowns in effect, public transport suspended, and risk of disease spread looming. Additional challenges related to issues of logistics, connectivity, liquidity, cyberattacks, biometric failures, and limitations of data-driven messaging.