Social Protection in Africa

Social Protection in Africa

Frank Ellis, Stephen Devereux and Phillip White

The purpose of this book is to make accessible to a broad audience the ideas, principles and practicalities of establishing effective social protection in Africa. It focuses on the major shift in strategy for tackling hunger and vulnerability, from emergency responses mainly in the form of food transfers to predictable cash transfers to the chronically poorest social groups. The diverse case studies in this book provide a unique and timely exploration of the effective, and less effective, ways that social transfers are delivered to the chronically poor and vulnerable in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Chapter 2: Vulnerability

Frank Ellis, Stephen Devereux and Phillip White

Subjects: development studies, development studies, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, economics of social policy, social policy in emerging countries


VULNERABILITY AND SOCIAL TRANSFERS Vulnerability tends to be a term that is used rather loosely; consequently it is often confused with, or used as a synonym for, ultra-poverty (being unable to meet even minimum food needs); or its descriptive meaning varies with the context in which it appears. Here, vulnerability is taken to mean both that people experience high risk of events that have adverse impacts on their livelihoods, and that their ability to deal with risky events when they occur is impaired (Devereux, 2002; Ellis, 2006b). Risky events, or shocks as they are often called, can occur individually (accident, illness, death) or community-wide (drought, floods, plant or animal diseases) (Dercon, 2002). Ability to deal with them when they occur, and thus avert livelihood collapse, depends much on the asset status of households. A household with strong and diverse assets (land, family labour, savings, livestock, tools, etc.) is better able to cope with a shock than a household with weak or depleted assets. Note that both sides of the vulnerability definition are relevant: the degree of risk of adverse events occurring, and the inability to cope. High risk on its own is not a good indicator of vulnerability (for example, for families that have plentiful resources and many options), and depleted assets would less often lead to livelihood failure in a low risk environment. It follows that vulnerability rises owing either to rising risk or to falling ability to cope, or to some combination of both those factors. People...

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