Five pathways to deliver rapid support for a green and resilient COVID-19 recovery in the LDCs

Drawing on a recent situational analysis report, Ritu Bharadwaj describes transformative pathways for setting the Least Developed Countries on a path towards a just, equitable and green recovery.

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1 October 2021

Ritu Bharadwaj is a senior researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group

Women sit next to piles of vegetables like onions, tomatoes, garlic.

Vegetables street vendors in the Saris market, south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia/Nahom Tesfaye via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

COVID-19 compounded the challenges of poverty, inequality and climate change, with the poorest and most vulnerable countries disproportionately affected. In the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), economies have been upended while health and social systems, already vulnerable, have come under intense pressure.

LDCs’ recovery from the pandemic will be determined by which recovery measures they choose, and the mechanisms for delivering these measures. But 'business-as-usual' options for economic recovery are typically delivered through top-down approaches. These exclude the experiences and expertise of local communities and authorities and, unsurprisingly, fail over the long term.

We carried out a situational analysis of five LDCs (Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Uganda) to explore how LDCs can ‘build forward better’ with bottom-up approaches to stimulate a green, resilient and equitable recovery.

Pathway 1: provide effective and adequate social protection

Adopt a ‘rights-based approach’ to social protection, providing assurance of a basic safety net during crises.

The roll-out of social protection schemes should be supported by a decentralised approach, so benefits are distributed effectively to the local level. The benefit package will need to be comprehensive, providing vulnerable communities with access to key basic services including education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation.

Pathway 2: create resilient job markets

Tackle informality in labour markets by recognising informal workers as part of the formal economy. Unrecorded, these ‘invisible’ workers do not have labour contracts, access to workers’ rights, minimum wages, decent working conditions or insurance cover.

When brought into the formal economy, these workers will be covered by social protection and their rights acknowledged. Developing social protection programmes and reforming the labour market should go hand in hand to ensure all workers – including those in the informal sectors – have fair and equal access to the labour market and social protection schemes.

Women should also have the same access as men; when women have the skills and opportunity to join the labour force, with decent pay and working conditions, they improve their ability, and their families’ capacity, to cope with adverse economic and climate impacts.

Pathway 3: improve community livelihoods

Support community-based collectives and micro enterprises, particularly those in the agriculture and forestry sectors, to emerge from the pandemic and increase their resilience to future shocks.

This will require sustainable and resource-efficient operations (such as the Better Cotton Initiative) supplemented with low-cost community-based certification (such as Trust Tea) and linking them to green supply chains and international markets.

Pathway 4: build on social capital

Repurpose institutions, systems and delivery approaches to strengthen social dialogue and democratic engagement processes by building on existing community-led institutions. This will help integrate and deliver essential services, address gender-based violence, exclusion and marginalisation.

A whole-of-government approach and collaborative structures – such as partnerships and alliances – will also be important as they reinforce capacity to implement solutions.

Pathway 5: direct recovery finance to local areas

Ensure COVID-19 recovery finance is directed behind delivery mechanisms that reach local areas, supports greater local agency engagement in decision-making and works for the most vulnerable.

Equally, donor countries will need to modify current aid architecture for supporting a green and resilient recovery in LDCs. Aggregated financing mechanisms could be explored for delivering results at scale.


Watch Ritu Bharadwaj discuss ways to support LDCs in their green COVID-19 recovery. The video is also available on IIED's YouTube channel

Putting social protection at the core: recommendations

Social protection is the golden thread running through all five pathways: LDCs must put social protection at the heart of any recovery strategy, and to do so will need to address the following challenges.

Fragmentation and duplication in social protection initiatives

In Bangladesh, safety nets provided by social protection schemes are fragmented, inefficient and often fail to reach the most vulnerable. Food provision fell short during the pandemic due to several overlapping food transfer initiatives.

In Uganda, coverage and targeting of social protection schemes are also generally poor. In Burkina Faso, although investment in social protection programmes has increased, most remain fragmented and skewed toward in-kind programmes.

Ethiopia’s social protection programmes, also fragmented, fail to reach vulnerable and marginalised groups including youth and people with pastoral livelihoods. LDCs must deal with fragmentation of social protection programmes and ensure targeting is more rigorous.

Redesign social protection systems to enhance preparedness to future shocks, including climate shocks

Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net programme has demonstrated the benefits of moving away from providing relief post-crisis towards predictable, sustained and shock responsive programmes.

Similarly, in Uganda, programmes like the Third Northern Uganda Social Action Fund offer shock responsive and risk mitigation mechanisms for poor and vulnerable households through labour intensive public works programmes. Evidence shows that such approaches are cost effective in the long term, providing universal social protection – with scope for expansion.

Address the digital divide to improve targeting and efficiency

Although Cambodia’s social protection system is relatively nascent compared to those of other LDCs, during COVID-19 they were able to scale up relief efforts to poor and vulnerable households by leveraging their IDPoor database – the national poverty identification system.

Rapid relief was rolled out by linking mobile payment systems and working closely with development partners for identification and registration. While the payment mechanism did have some limitations – such as use of cash instead of digital payments – it shows the value of technology in addressing the digital divide over the long term.

Align social protection schemes with changing demographics

Cambodia is dealing with a growing ageing population and high rates of child labour. Uganda also has a very young population. LDCs will need to align their social protection strategies with transitioning demographics – from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates.

A higher ratio of productive workers to dependants will help stimulate economic growth. Gender equity must also be at the core of demographic transition – the level of women’s participation in the work force will be a key factor determining the level of economic growth.

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