Does the geographical footprint of Ethiopia’s flagship social protection programme align with climatic and conflict risks?

Ethiopia’s flagship ‘Productive Safety Net Programme’ (PSNP) entered its fifth phase of implementation in 2021 with a reorientation of the programme’s target areas. Whereas before it targeted woredas (districts) with a history of food insecurity, it now prioritises those experiencing ‘extreme poverty through shocks’ – particularly drought. In so doing, the government has rebranded the PSNP as an ‘adaptive’ safety net.

The focus of the ‘adaptive social protection’ policy agenda, however, extends beyond responding to biophysical risks associated with climate variability and change: it also seeks to address non-climatic, contextual factors underpinning relational vulnerability to climate change. This study therefore asks whether the PSNP’s system of geographical targeting at the start of its fifth phase aligns with this more comprehensive framing of ‘adaptive social protection’.

The results highlight that PSNP administrators need to pay more attention to certain risks as they consider expanding the programme’s geographical footprint so that it becomes more ‘adaptive’. Doing so could better support the strengthening of PSNP participants’ long-term resilience to climate change.

Key points for decision-makers

  • The Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) is a flagship social protection programme in Ethiopia, established more than 15 years ago.
  • The Government has recently taken the impacts of climate change into consideration and branded the PSNP an ‘adaptive’ programme that aims to build the resilience of households living in extreme poverty due to livelihood shocks.
  • Controlling for poverty headcount rate and population density, the authors assess whether the woredas (districts) covered by the PSNP are those most exposed to three major risks in the country: drought, flooding and political conflict.
  • Drought and flooding are the two major biophysical climatic hazards. Proximity to conflict is just one example of a socio-political factor contributing to relational vulnerability to climate change, but is crucial to consider given the recent escalation of civil unrest in Ethiopia.
  • The authors find that PSNP coverage is positively associated with districts experiencing higher year-on-year drought conditions, yet woredas with higher multi-year drought variability are less likely to be covered. This shows that the programme’s consideration of what constitutes drought risk is limited.
  • They find no relationship between PSNP coverage and exposure to flood risk, which is unevenly distributed across the country.
  • While the programme is currently well-targeted towards districts facing disproportionately high levels of political insecurity, this association disappears if the recent escalation of conflict beginning in 2020 is disregarded.