Wed | Oct 28, 2020

New poverty assessment tool helping Caribbean countries COVID response

Published:Saturday | October 17, 2020 | 12:08 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer

Governments in the Eastern Caribbean have been making use of the Enhanced Country Poverty Assessment (eCPA) toolkit, with one using it to help guide their response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials have noted that the toolkit helps take the guesswork out of determining which families require social protection programme benefits.

In St Lucia, it has been used to design a Survey of Living Conditions – Household Budget Survey from which data was extrapolated to inform a national eligibility test, making the identification of vulnerable communities and individuals more scientific.

“It improves efficiency, ensuring that the right persons get the help, because, in the past, we’ve had errors of inclusion and errors of exclusion where persons who are not poor are accessing cash transfers and persons who are genuinely poor are excluded from it,” explained chief economist in the Department of Economic Planning, Tommy Descartes.

“Previous datasets looked at income poverty, but now you’re looking at deprivation in terms of education, health, employment, which will help St Lucia provide better interventions to poor households,” he said.

Based on the data, Descartes said St Lucia will be “expanding the number of households [assessed] by 1,000 to respond to COVID-19 over the next two to three months, as part of an economic resilience and recovery strategy. We will be using the instrument to ensure that the right households are getting public assistance”.

Coming on stream in 2018, the toolkit is built on the existing Country Poverty Assessment, with the incorporation of climate change, disaster risk management and geographic information systems considerations. St Lucia has used the toolkit to prepare the Participatory Poverty Assessment, the Institution Assessment and Macro Socio Economic Analysis.

While St Lucia is the only country so far to have used data derived from the eCPA toolkit for its COVID-19 stimulus package, other countries in the Eastern Caribbean have been using it to varying degrees, but all with the same goal – boosting social registration systems to improve social protection programmes. These include The British Virgin Islands, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

LARGE SYSTEM REFORM

Descartes stated that St Lucia’s focus will be building on the toolkit, using it as the basis for a larger reform of the country’s social safety net system.

Project coordinator of the ECPA in the Statistical Unit of the OECS, Geraldine St Croix, highlighted that the eCPA helps builds capacity within governments, allowing administrations to do the work themselves, as opposed to relying on external actors.

“For the prior rounds of the eCPA, we hired a team of consultants to do it. This time, we decided to empower member states for the sustainable future of poverty assessments,” she said, explaining that talent gaps were created by outflows of people from across government ministries. “There are consultants that come in at times where specific skills are required, but in terms of in-country implementation of field exercises, the member states carry it out themselves.”

The project coordinator emphasised that the data derived is used to inform evidence-based decisions affecting people’s lives.

“A wealth of information is collected from targeted poor and vulnerable communities, and focus group discussions provide opportunities to hear their voices first-hand. So, in terms of disaster risk reduction, the vulnerable subpopulation and the data can assist in identifying measures to improve their resilience. In addition, the inclusion of poverty and vulnerability mapping in the Enhanced CPA has proved useful in pictorially displaying areas of vulnerability across [CDB’s Borrowing Member Countries] and encouraging governments to take appropriate action,” she said.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com