One of the key challenges of expanding coverage to new beneficiaries under the World Bank’s Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) was accessing data to assess household needs. The project team did this by hiring consultants from the localities being surveyed in order to protect against spreading COVID-19 between different communities.
All of the enumerators used personal protective equipment (PPE) and practiced physical distancing. Their survey was used to raise awareness of COVID-19 among tens of thousands of people. The Social Fund for Development (SFD) hired health advisers and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) specialists to ensure that the enumerators and beneficiaries were protected. They developed data collection applications that synchronized data with project servers to minimize the use of paper while providing information in real-time.
Data application systems were adapted to capture behavioral changes. The data tracks farmer behavior and records patterns in production, the prioritization of grant utilization, knowledge sharing on productivity, and raising awareness about COVID-19.
Approximately 50% of adult Yemenis do not possess a national ID; in the poorest districts this number is closer to 70%. The project used enrollment to help cash-for-works beneficiaries obtain an ID by including the time taken to do so as part of their hours worked. This amounted to 5% to 10% of the entire payment.
Onboarding beneficiaries included continuous awareness of OHS and COVID-19. Each day, workers’ temperatures were taken and those with high temperatures were advised to stay home and rest. Field consultants are undertaking more advanced OHS training, and SFD has launched the first Yemeni online OHS training course allowing thousands of field engineers and consultants to hone their skills.
Regarding payments, the program has adopted a dual strategy. Smallholder producers were encouraged to open bank accounts to receive electronic transfers. Where this was not feasible, the team requested financial service providers to work with the Ministry of Health to produce COVID-19-sensitive cash transfer procedures.
Payment procedures include creating additional payment sites, calling together smaller groups through improved scheduling, physical distancing measures using ground markings, and PPE. The financial service provider introduced “clean bank notes” and instructed recipients on the safe handling of cash. At each worksite, workers were hired to disinfect surfaces.
An adaption specific to the cash-for-nutrition project was to change the payment schedule in order to pay cash benefits in advance to minimize in-person transactions. Instead of monthly payment gatherings, beneficiaries received cash for an entire quarter. This was particularly timely given that Yemen's COVID-19 transmission was expected to peak during the economically stressful period between the two Eid holidays (late May to late July). Getting larger than usual cash assistance during this period was crucial to beneficiaries.
Yet, beyond cash transfers, more was needed to protect communities.
Making 100,000 masks, replicating success
Women in Yemen make up the larger part of the workforce and shoulder most of the burden of care. The project prioritized women and children through cash-for-nutrition interventions. As a result, SFD managed to raise additional funding from the government of the United Kingdom for this important component as an emergency response to COVID-19.
Importantly, the project works to empower communities through Village Cooperative Councils (VCCs), where women are given more prominent roles alongside men village council members. Out of 23,600 elected councilors, 50% are women who have actively participated in community self-help initiatives, including the production of 100,000 face masks.
The Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS) (a subsidiary of SFD) support to women, particularly rural livestock breeders, has significantly helped avoid the use of negative coping strategies. Some 2,656 women livestock breeders have been supported with cash grants to buy food items and hygiene materials on the condition that they and their households attended the door-to-door awareness raising sessions on COVID-19 prevention, and a refresher on hygiene.
End line data for this sector shows a sustained increase of 185% in income, productivity increase of 129%, and a reduction in negative coping strategies. Main indicators for the coping strategy were: 75% decrease in the selling of assets and 50% increase in daily food intake. Women supported with cash grants used them to procure food (33%), hygiene materials (9%), productive assets (38%), preventive materials (4%), and clothing (16%).
The price of PPE, particularly face masks, has skyrocketed by 640%, which risks pricing the poor out of the market. SFD's community empowerment program has been working with 2,360 VCCs to support community initiatives to combat COVID-19. A common initiative has been producing high quality, reusable face masks. District health offices are buying locally produced masks—an illustration of community competitiveness and resilience.
Communicating these successes is causing a replication effect.
Working with young, social media savvy professionals, the Yemen ECRP has produced a wealth of high-quality communications content, including 25 videos, 15 radio flashes, and printed materials, under the campaign titled #LetsFightCorona. These have been published online for download by other humanitarian and development agencies in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Thus far, this content is estimated to have reached more than 40 million people, with strong penetration amongst internet users in Yemen. Within a few days of launching the first COVID-19 video, local and regional TV channels had aired these messages at peak viewer times to an estimated several million people.
Finally, the project’s team leaders would like to highlight our strategic partnership with the World Bank’s international Development Association and UNDP, which has been vital in the effort to provide services to Yemenis across the country. We will continue our concerted efforts to stave off famine by providing support to nutrition interventions, cash for work, vital services, and small businesses.