MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Japan are extending grants totaling $3 million for a cash-for-work scheme and other pilot social support programs for vulnerable groups in the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, and Tonga.

The Social Protection of the Vulnerable in the Pacific Project, funded by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction through ADB, aims to tap civil society groups to provide semiformal pilot social safety programs that could eventually form the basis for development of social protection programs in the countries. To ensure the pilot models can be incorporated into national social safety net programs, the project will fund assessment studies of vulnerable groups and help the governments develop and put in place the necessary social policy.

Currently, the three island nations rely on extended family networks and strong community ties to provide informal support during times of hardship. However, the growth of cash economies, increasing population drift into urban centers, and overseas migration have undermined these traditional support systems. The need for more formal protection has been highlighted by the recent global economic crisis with many vulnerable groups facing increased hardship as a result of a slump in remittances, a sharp fall in tourism and a drop in the value of commodity exports.

"Rising hardship among vulnerable groups and the declining effectiveness of informal safety nets are putting increasing pressure on Pacific Island governments to introduce formal social protection systems. This project will provide the basis for country-led social protection policy development and implementation in the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and Tonga," said Robert Wihtol, Director General of ADB's Pacific Department.

Along with cash-for-work for replanting coconut trees in the Marshall Islands, the project will provide direct support for home care and nursing services for the elderly and disabled in the Cook Islands using non-government and civil society organizations. It will also extend microcredit, to poor and unemployed women in Tonga, and provide them with financial and life skills training.

A regional conference at the conclusion of the project will be held for the governments and project stakeholders to share knowledge, experiences and lessons from the various pilot activities with other Pacific countries and development partners. The project will complement the ongoing ADB-financed economic recovery and public sector support loans and grant program to the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands and Tonga, which are designed to counter the effects of the global economic crisis.

The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction grant assistance will be split three ways with the Cook Islands getting $900,000, the Marshall Islands $1.2 million, and Tonga $900,000. ADB will provide $150,000 in regional technical assistance, the three governments will make an in-kind contribution of $300,000 equivalent, and target communities will extend in-kind support of $75,000, for a total estimated project cost of $3.525 million.

The executing agencies are the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management in the Cook Islands, the Ministry of Finance in the Marshall Islands, and the Ministry of Finance and National Planning in Tonga. The project is expected to be completed by March 2013.