Implementing an Urban Cash for Work Programme (UCWP) in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown and flooding in Uganda

The Urban Cash for Work Programme aims to contribute towards the easing of economic hardship already affecting vulnerable, poor and needy communities due to the impact of COVID 19 in urban areas and the impact of flooding for those living in affected rural areas, including in the refugee-hosting district of Arua.

News | 08 October 2020
COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of the labour surplus, unemployed families and the labour constrained families in urban areas. Furthermore, in rural settings, many people have been displaced by floods, especially those who live along mountain slopes. They lack basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health care. They were already struggling to provide for their families after the long period of lockdown imposed to counteract the COVID-19 pandemic and heavy torrential rains which have swept away homes and gardens.

It will take some time for these two categories of families to recover from the economic effects of the lockdown. It is, therefore, important for the government to address this challenge before it escalates into social unrest.

Any investment supporting vulnerable households, especially in urban areas, helps household consumption and enables them to meet their basic economic needs, such as access to livelihood opportunities, is a welcome intervention. In this light, the labour-intensive public works intervention in the form of the Urban Cash for Work Programme (UCWP) is seen as one of the solutions to address this difficult situation.

The PROSPECTS Programme in Uganda is supporting a pilot UCWP programme which will offer the opportunity for beneficiaries to transition into longer-term recovery support by increasing their resilience through capacity-building and strengthening local institutions, skills development, working standards and policies and quality assurance of assets created. This pilot is being rolled out in October 2020 in the refugee-hosting district of Arua and will also benefit refugees in the area. Arua is one of the 13 refugee-hosting districts in Uganda, hosting over 190,000 refugees which accounts for 13 per cent of Uganda’s 1.4 million refugees. The presence of these refugees has created some pressure on social-economic services in host communities, highlighting the importance of integrated interventions bringing refugee and host communities together and strengthening social cohesion.

The purpose of the UCWP is to mitigate the income shock encountered by some of the households in large urban centres and flood-affected districts as a result of the various measures instituted by government to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arua District has been identified as a pilot UCWP district as a refugee-hosting district.

Working through the expanding social protection programme of Uganda’s Ministry of Labour, Gender and Social Development, the UCWP will enrol at least one member of every eligible household to earn income by participating in a community project designed to provide short-term labour intensive employment to poor and vulnerable individuals. Altogether, 529,500 people will be enrolled in the programme in 14 urban centres and 16 flood-affected districts. For the pilot programme in Arua, 200,000 people will be enrolled. Given that women have been more negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than their male counterparts, the programme will aim to enrol at least 50 per cent female beneficiaries. Considering that Uganda’s Refugee Act of 2006 allows for refugees to participate in economic activities, the UCWP will also aim for 20 per cent inclusion of refugees who will be identified with support of UNHCR.

COVID-19 affects the most vulnerable groups disproportionately, including the urban poor, informal daily wage workers, women and youth. People without access to running water, refugees and their host communities in urban settings are also more affected by the pandemic and its aftermath – whether due to limited movement or fewer employment opportunities.

Public employment programmes, such as the UCWP which target the poor and unemployed households, can play a pivotal role in providing income support to some of the most vulnerable people, including refugees who are the least able to cushion themselves from negative impacts of the pandemic, as well as extreme weather events.