Working paper abstract

#2011-042

Protecting vulnerable families in Central Asia: Poverty, vulnerability and the impact of the economic crisis

Franziska Gassmann

Since the end of 2007, countries in Central Asia have been struck by two major consecutive shocks: the food and fuel price increase in 2007-08, and the global economic and financial crisis that began at the end of 2008. Households, both poor and not poor, are directly and adversely affected by the crisis. The multi-dimensionality of the crises and the volatile economic environment challenge the ability of vulnerable households to cope and to maintain their living standards. Social protection programmes play an important role in the response to a crisis. This paper provides an overview of the social and economic vulnerabilities of households with children in the five Central Asian countries, and assesses the ability of national social protection systems to address these, with the main focus on the role of non-contributory cash transfers financed from general government revenues. The paper concludes that the existing social cash transfer systems are not effective in addressing the needs of poor and vulnerable children and families in Central Asia. Limited coverage together with limited funding reduces the potential poverty reduction impact of the programmes. The paper discusses potential strategies for improving existing systems by consolidating and protecting government spending, streamlining existing benefits and transfers, improving the identification of beneficiaries and strengthening administration, monitoring and evaluation systems.

Keywords: social protection, social assistance, economic crisis, poverty reduction, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.