Food Coalition

Poverty reduction, economic inclusion and social protection in the Near East and North Africa region

The COVID-19 pandemic is best characterized as the most recent in a series of shocks and crises that confront vulnerable rural populations in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region. On top of structural fragility, conflict, desert locust and other transboundary pests and diseases, climatic stresses such as floods and drought, and economic shocks have all continued to exacerbate poverty and food insecurity in the NENA region. As of 2019, an estimated 31 million people of NENA population suffer from acute food and livelihood crisis (IPC 3) or worse and three of the top ten most food insecure countries in the world are in the NENA region (the Sudan, Syria and Yemen). Moreover, the NENA region is the only region where extreme poverty has increased in recent years, a trend that is mostly driven by outbreak of conflict in 2011. 1 The violence has also led to large-scale human displacement and forced migration. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report for 2020, despite being home to just 5.4 percent of the global population, the NENA region accounts for more than a quarter of people internally displaced by conflict and violence globally, in addition to more than one third of the global refugee population. This is higher than any other region. By the end of 2018, the NENA region hosted more than 11.8 million refugees and 14.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The global health crisis adds further complexity to the region’s socio-economic challenges and threatens to push millions of the region’s population over the edge into poverty and food insecurity. The public health measures and restrictions adopted by countries in response to COVID-19 have amplified the adverse impacts of pre-existing crises on food and nutrition security and set back efforts made to re-establish and safeguard livelihoods especially in resource poor rural areas. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN ESCWA) estimates that 1.7 million jobs would be lost in 2020, especially in sectors where women and young people are mainly concentrated, and an additional 8.3 million people will fall into poverty in the region. Further, the demographic pressures are high in the NENA region with the highest youth unemployment rate in the world in 2019, according to data published by the World Bank. Millions of small scale farmers and agriculture workers have experienced income reduction or loss with informal, casual, seasonal and migrant laborers being among the hardest hit. Of these, women and young people face special vulnerabilities due to their constrained access to capital, assets, information, services and markets.

The differential health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to exacerbate the tremendous inequalities between and within countries in the NENA region. For example, disparities in access to digital technologies are becoming increasingly problematic. Rural populations, particularly women among them, with more limited access to computers, smartphones and broadband, coupled with higher illiteracy and lower digital literacy, are unable to participate in the now booming digital economy while rural children, adolescents and youth struggle to continue their education or training online de-facto hampering their school to work transition. The exclusion of informal workers and farmers from social protection schemes and robust safety nets is another critical element that has undermined the resilience and adaptive capacity of rural communities to shocks like COVID-19 and beyond, particularly in fragile or conflict affected countries.

In this context, the recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 in the NENA region must focus on addressing national, subnational and household and intra-household inequalities. Economic recovery programs that do not address these inequalities and work to bridge the growing gender and age divide and rural-urban gap among other disparities, run the risk of reinforcing and deepening these inequalities into the future.


Priority Areas of work: Economic Inclusion and Social Protection to Reduce Poverty
SDG: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 5. Gender Equality, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 10. Reduced Inequality
Level: Regional
Region: Near East and North Africa
Country: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, State of, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, West Bank & Gaza Strip, Yemen
Budget: USD 10 million

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