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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan was ranked on Monday as one of the top countries in Asia -along with Sri Lanka, East Timor and Tuvalu - with highest response to social protection amid Covid-19 crisis, through its Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, at a global e-conference hosted by the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) under the theme "Social protection responses to Covid-19."

This new study was conducted by the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), and the IPC-IG to assess social protection response in Asia, focusing on an extensive mapping and overview of how social protection measures were deployed by the countries in Asia and the Pacific region in the response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The study suggested that Pakistan covers highest number of responses to social protection in Asia through the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme. "Afghanistan included many humanitarian interventions; hence Pakistan tops the list," a press release from Pakistan's Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division (PASSD) quoted Marina Andrade, Researcher from IPC-IG team, as saying.

"South Asian countries had a larger number of social protection responses to Covid-19 when compared with other Asian nations. Regarding coverage, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Sri Lanka implemented important changes to increase the number of beneficiaries," she said.

Speaking at the virtual conference, Dr Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection, said the Government of Pakistan launched Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, providing urgent cash payments to over 15 million households, within 10 days of Covid-19 lockdown.

The $1.25 billion safety-net programme was rolled out at unprecedented speed, designed in the short-term to offer immediate relief in the form of $75 to the poorest and hardest-hit families, she said, adding that the programme's end-to-end digital approach, with transparency hard-wired into its design, offers lessons about how to use personal identification systems.

"By combining phones, internet connectivity and national IDs, we were able to create a digital, demand-based social-protection system, enabling those in distress to seek emergency cash support. Overall, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme not only helped our country respond to the immediate crisis, providing relief for the poorest households in Pakistan, but also put in place critical building blocks for a stronger and more inclusive financial sector in Pakistan," Nishtar said.

The global e-conference provided an opportunity for taking stock, exchanging information and facilitating learning on social protection responses to Covid-19, the PASSD said. It also offered a moment to deliberate on the future of social protection in the context of the pandemic, it added.

According to the IPC-IG, the Covid-19 outbreak requires responses that extend far beyond the health sector, including measures to assist people in need and protect them from falling into poverty due to the pandemic.

"Social protection systems have thus become more important than ever. Therefore, the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth has proposed the creation of a task force, titled "Social protection responses to Covid-19", to map social protection measures around the globe. The initiative includes an online community, webinar series and weekly newsletter," the IPC-IG's website said.

This joint effort counts on the support of the GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia, it added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020