Study on shock-responsive social protection in Latin America and the Caribbean

What factors would enable social protection systems to be more responsive to shocks?

Project team members

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The objective of this study commissioned by the World Food Programme (WFP) is to generate evidence and inform practice for improved emergency preparedness and response in LAC linked to more flexible national social protection systems. The main research question for the study is: ‘What factors would enable social protection systems to be more responsive to shocks’?

As part of this study we conducted a literature review with the objective of identifying experiences in which social protection has been used in response to natural, economic, or political shocks. The review was then complemented with interviews with key informants. We are also conducting country case studies in Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, and five additional Caribbean countries to be defined. A synthesis report shares the key findings of the overall study and proposes recommendations and a way forward for a shock-responsive social protection in LAC. Findings and recommendations are also shared in national and regional conferences across the region.


El objetivo de este estudio comisionado por el Programa Mundial de Alimentos (PMA) es generar evidencia e informar acerca de cómo fortalecer la preparación y respuesta a emergencias en América Latina y el Caribe (ALC) con base en sistemas nacionales de protección social más flexibles. La principal pregunta de investigación del estudio es: “¿Qué factores permiten que los sistemas de protección social sean más reactivos frente a emergencias?”.

El estudio incluye la revisión de literatura sobre experiencias en la región de sistemas de protección social respondiendo a choques de origen natural, económico o político. La revisión de literatura es complementada con entrevistas a informantes clave y con casos de estudio en: Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haití, Perú, República Dominicana y otros 5 países del Caribe a ser definidos. Por último, un reporte final consolida los hallazgos principales y las recomendaciones de política.


In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) natural disasters have occurred increasingly frequently since the 1960s: 19 disasters per year in the 1960s and 68 per year in the first decade of the twenty-first century. For this reason, the adoption of mitigation measures to reduce the population’s exposure to natural disasters and to restore infrastructure, together with economic and social measures, is becoming increasingly essential.

Meanwhile, social protection systems in LAC have evolved and expanded substantially in the last few decades, with, for example, the percentage of GDP allocated to public social investment growing from 15% in 2000 to 19.1% in 2012. Cash transfers have become part of virtually every social protection system in the developing world, and LAC was a pioneer in developing sophisticated programmes with multiple objectives, such as conditional cash transfers (CCTs), which have been replicated worldwide. The proportion of the population benefiting from CCTs in LAC, for example, increased from 5.7% to 21.1% between 2000 and 2012. These programmes have shown to have positive effects on household consumption, access to health and education services, amongst other dimensions.

In this light, fairly advanced social protection systems and large-scale safety nets seem to provide a unique opportunity to support shock response in LAC. However, social protection systems can involve conflicting objectives, target populations and operational processes when compared with humanitarian interventions, which can impede their ability to play a role in accommodating additional demand for assistance at the time of an emergency.

Our approach

Our approach to the assignment consists of adopting and adapting to the region the theoretical framework developed in the global DFID study on Shock-Responsive Social Protection Systems. The framework divides the readiness of a social protection system into system preparedness and responsiveness.

System preparedness

Planning and preparedness are vital for a successful response. In principle, more mature social protection systems should be better placed to respond to shocks. However, systems can be quite mature in the sense that they are state-led, well-established and with high coverage, but still not sufficiently prepared for emergencies. In this research we assess the level of preparedness of the social protection system based on three aspects essential for a timely and effective response:

  • Targeting system – protocols and criteria for selecting people receiving support 
  • Information system – the capacity for collecting, storing, managing and sharing information 
  • Delivery mechanism – the capacity to transfer cash or in-kind support 
  • Coordination – the mechanisms and protocols for the coordination of different actors involved in Disaster Risk Management 
  • Financing – the strategies and mechanisms for shock and disaster risk financing

System response

Based on OPM research, we tentatively consider five main types of scale-up. These can be used in combination:

  • Vertical expansion: increasing the benefit value or duration of an existing programme
  • Horizontal expansion: adding new beneficiaries to an existing programme
  • Piggybacking: using a social protection intervention’s administrative framework, but running the shock-response programme separately
  • Shadow alignment: developing a parallel humanitarian system that aligns as best as possible with a current or possible future social protection programme
  • Refocusing: in case of budget cut, adjusting the social protection system to refocus assistance on groups most vulnerable to the shock


In light of the scarce literature on the topic in LAC, our report will help define the debate around the role of social protection systems in shock response and will inform governments and other actors about the factors that can enable systems to be more responsive.

In addition to the reports, OPM and WFP will engage in a number of strategies for the disseminations of our findings, including regional conferences, webinars and visits to specific countries.

We expect that over the longer-term the findings of our research will help social protection systems in LAC to be better prepared and be more responsive to shocks.

You can read the publications associated with this project on the World Food Programme website in English and in Spanish.


WFP Estudio sobre Protección Social Reactiva ante Emergencias en América Latina y el Caribe

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