In a previous piece of work for OGB in Gaza, I had explored the issues associated with the proxy means test formula. PMTF is used by the UN and the local authority to identify households that qualify for the formal social safety net programmes. One issue of concern was the fairly high rate of obvious inclusion and exclusion errors. These were not a real surprise, and it’s common sense and simple maths that the majority of these errors occur close to the threshold level, where a small change in the numbers can propel a household score into the other category. While I understand the need for a universal objective measurement process, I made some recommendations about the need for an additional human over-ride in this rather impersonal system.
This project is in some part a response to that recommendation. It targeted households that fall outside of the safety net, according to the PMTF, but which are highly vulnerable according to other objective criteria.
Indeed, we can see this work and a few others as a piece of action research by OGB in which I have been closely involved, trying to better understand the causes and symptoms of acute vulnerability in Gaza (layered on top of the chronic vulnerability and reversals of development as a result of the blockade), to identify ways in which it can be understood and measured, and to seek effective actions to prevent or offset it.
One interesting theme in the report is household debt, or more accurately, access to credit. Rolling household debt is so universal in Gaza (and note that it usually attracts no interest payments) that it can hardly be described as a stress coping strategy. The level of debt that a household can sustain is perhaps a measure of resilience – it’s an indicator of creditworthiness. Traders will only advance credit if they have a reasonable expectation that it will be repaid.
As a result of the assistance, the amounts of credit that households were able to access increased steadily over time, and we can understand that this means their ‘credit score’ in the local shops has increased, and with it, their resilience. Of course, their total debt burden also increased – but again, no interest is usually payable.
Much of the report is a technical and rather arcane discussion of the different Food Insecurity tools – the challenges of their application in urban Gaza, and ways to find the best balance between them to identify those at risk of exclusion from the safety net.
The report ends with a discussion of the tool used to measure coping strategies – which would probably work rather well if it were properly applied. The report proposes returning the CSI to its intended purpose, measuring only reversible food consumption strategies (and fixing the bizarre weightings) and developing a new tool to look at other, non-reversible and socially damaging coping.
Now, anyone out there interested in funding that?