Beirut, 28 April 2020 (ESCWA)--In a region suffering from high rates of poverty and unemployment, and marred with conflict and displacement, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is devastating. To discuss response policies, ESCWA held the first meeting of its Expert Group on Social Protection Reform online, on 22 April, in coordination with the Regional Office for Arab States of the International Labour Organization (ILO ROAS).
More than 30 experts from Arab States reviewed national measures taken to increase social protection, particularly for the most vulnerable. They agreed that, while some States are rolling out generous welfare programmes and stimulus packages, the scope and depth of social protection responses vary significantly across the region.
Daoud Al Deek, Deputy Minister of Social Development in the State of Palestine and Chair of the twelfth session of the ESCWA Committee on Social Development, opened the meeting, highlighting the recently published ESCWA report on Social Protection Reform in Arab Countries and the timeliness of the formation of the Expert Group, which should look into means to increase the resilience of Arab societies to face the crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic should compel us to pay more heed to social protection systems across the Arab region – and to social justice, because social protection and assistance cannot be tackled outside the social justice framework,” Al Deek stressed. “Social protection is a right for individuals, families and communities, and a factor of stability for the economy,” he added.
Participating experts exchanged experiences and decisions made thus far in terms of social protection in their countries. They also agreed to meet frequently to continue monitoring developments on the social protection front in view of the pandemic.
“The socioeconomic traumas resulting from the pandemic jeopardize the region; they unveil its weak points while aggravating its long-term structural challenges,” ILO ROAS Regional Director Ruba Jaradat underscored. “The impact is harsher on older persons, women, children, persons with disability, vulnerable workers, immigrants and refugees,” she added.
ESCWA presented the preliminary results of its mapping of policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis around the globe, which encompasses 160 countries. It concluded that major, large-scale interventions would be needed to strengthen the current social protection mechanisms of most Arab countries, so as to protect the poor and vulnerable and support the middle class.
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