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Ehsaas to help achieve dream of largest social safety net in country: Nishtar

  • The Ehsaas Emergency Cash program was launched to mitigate the socio-economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
23 Sep 2020

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister's Special Assistant on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar Tuesday said the success of the country's largest poverty alleviation program of Ehsaas would help achieve the dream of a very large social safety net in the country that was not focused on earlier.

This would also prove as a stepping stone to the financial inclusion which is a very important component of poverty alleviation, Dr. Nishtar said while sharing Ehsaas Emergency Cash experience at an international forum ‘Coping with COVID-19: The Pakistan Experience.

The virtual forum was hosted by a high-level global think tank, Center for Global Development (CGD).

The Ehsaas Emergency Cash program, conceptualized by the Prime Minister Imran Khan and supported by the cabinet, was launched to mitigate the socio-economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

The Ehsaas Emergency Program which was rolled out 10 days after the lockdown began and delivering one-time cash grants totaling more than $1.2 billion to 15 million households, covering approximately 50% of the country's population.

The recipient families are given 12,000 rupees (US$75) to cover immediate subsistence needs.

Continuing, she said, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme's end-to-end digital approach, with transparency hard-wired into its design, offers lessons about how to use personal identification systems.

She said that the cell phones, internet connectivity and national IDs, and a digital, demand-based social-protection system were combined to reach out to the deserving at a national scale.

The legacy of the program focused on long-term goals to strengthen the safety net and increase financial inclusion which will bring lasting benefits to recipients and to Pakistan as a whole.

Elaborating the objectives, Dr. Nishtar said the micro analysis of the country's labor work force revealed that there were 24 million breadwinners in the country who either work as daily wage workers or at piece rate enumeration or self employed in the country's large informal economy.

She said that if we multiply this with the family size, the country has 160 million of such individuals which is two third of the total population.

"We were fortunate enough to develop the bio- metrically enabled payment system, SMS based requests seeking mechanism and data analytic system already in the year 2019 for Ehsaas program", she said.

She said the idea was to adopt the hybrid type targeting approach, combine the emergency assistance for the non-vulnerable as well as open the system to the demand based approach for the new poor.

Those whose livelihoods were affected during the lockdown were asked to send SMS on 8171 through wide advertisement after which 139 million SMS received out of which 66 million were of unique IDs.

The payment process was started through the designated banks after scrutinizing the details of the applicants through data analytics and other parameters.

"This massive operation was made possible with the effort of the present government and required huge coordination in the very difficult period when the country was passing through lockdown and long queues during the payment process were itself a big problem", she said.

Dr. Nishtar also mentioned the challenges faced during the payments like cyber attacks, biometric failures, unregistered deaths, closure of banks and relevant institutions etc.

Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar and Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, Dr. Reza Baqir also spoke on the occasion to exhibit the success of the Pakistan’s smart lockdown strategy and Corona relief package tackling COVID-19 restrictions.

In the high-level panel discussion, the three panelists were virtually joined by two international experts, Dr. Kalipso Chalkidou from Global Health team at CGD and Dr. Alan Gelb who leads a workstream on the use of digital ID systems for safety nets in Pakistan and other countries.

The CGD joined hands with CDPR, the Pakistani economic research consortium to foster local participation and engagement at the event.

They acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to control the spread of the virus and its economic consequences that led to better outcomes than most other countries.