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Humanitarian Cash and Social Protection in Iraq

28 January 2021 — By Emily Savage

This report presents an overview of CVA and social protection in Iraq and offers recommendations to the HCT on how improved collaboration and coordination between the two systems could improve overall outcomes.

State social protection programmes are a critical component of household income as the poverty rate in Iraq has continued to worsen. In 2012, the poverty rate was assessed to be 18.9 percent, increasing to 22.5 percent for non-displaced households and nearly double for displaced households by 2014 (World Bank, 2018).

Humanitarian agencies have meanwhile been in the process of scaling down emergency response and working towards a transition to durable solutions.

Several initiatives for linking humanitarian and social protection systems have been initiated, but none have been sustained or gained sufficient buy-in from all stakeholders. However, the division between Government of Iraq (GoI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) means that two separate reform process have been happening simultaneously, with uneven engagement of humanitarian actors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened poverty rates, increased the importance of maintaining social protection mechanisms, and disrupted scaling down of humanitarian response. While cash transferbased
response to COVID-19 in Iraq – through humanitarian and social protection channels – has been able to scale, it has faced several challenges. The GoI’s Minha programme was able to provide cash to many people, though some are still waiting on transfers and little to no information is available regarding efficacy, use, gaps in targeting and general population-level awareness. Humanitarian organizations had limited to no information about the programme and experienced mobile money disruptions due to provider capacity issues. The KRG is
considering a similar programme but has not yet released any details on targeting or delivery approach, caseload, value, or timelines.

Humanitarian MPCA actors have applied the COVID-19 modifications recommended by the CWG unevenly, and the reach of humanitarian programmes is limited by available funding. In the short term humanitarian actors are better placed to expand coverage to meet new and worsening needs caused by the economic impacts of COVID-19, but this should not undermine ongoing efforts to support transition from
humanitarian to longer term approaches.

However, the COVID-19 crisis has also reinvigorated the push to engage in multilateral technical coordination, programme pilots, and creative mechanisms for expanded and sustainable social protection approaches, which is critical to address growing poverty in both Iraq and Kurdistan. This will require strong leadership given that the complexity and political sensitivity of social protection in Iraq provides for a difficult, though not impossible, reform environment.