ISLAMABAD     -      Pakistan and Asian Development Bank (ADB) Friday signed a $200 million loan agreement for additional financing to help support the Government of Pakistan’s flagship social protection program, the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP).

The ADB Country Director Ms. Xiaohong Yang and Economic Affairs Division Secretary, Noor Ahmed signed loan agreement. BISP Secretary Ali Raza Bhutta, signed the accompanying project agreement with ADB. The Minister for Economic Affairs, Hammad Azhar witnessed the signing ceremony.

BISP, considered one of the largest social protection programs in South Asia, is part of a larger government strategy, called Ehsaas, to reduce poverty and inequality. BISP, which is primarily funded by the Government of Pakistan, supports Ehsaas through cash transfers, poverty graduation programs, and a targeted safety net. The ADB-financed Social Protection Development Project, approved in October 2013, has enabled the enrollment of over 855,000 women beneficiaries to the program. The $200 million additional financing will continue to support this initiative as well as help BISP implements institutional strengthening measures.

Social Protection Development will provide a financial cushion to the population that is below the poverty line and is vulnerable to economic shocks, by scaling up unconditional cash transfers. The project will also provide support to BISP for developing Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) modalities that can directly impact the root causes of poverty, i.e. poor health and education. The incremental outputs will be: (i) continuation of UCT payments to eligible BISP beneficiaries, (ii) supporting further improvements in financial managements and control systems to support these cash transfers and (iii) strengthening policy research functions of BISP to support Ehsaas, the Government’s national social protection and poverty alleviation policy. The additional financing will also provide an invaluable opportunity to set the direction of ADB’s strategic engagement in social protection and poverty reduction Pakistan.

“ADB’s additional financing will support further institutional strengthening of BISP. A policy research unit will be established within BISP to help monitor and improve ongoing programs and design new evidence-based initiatives such as conditional cash transfers, following global best practices”, said ADB Country Director, Ms. Xiaohong Yang. She added that ADB was “committed to helping the Government of Pakistan implement alternate modalities for social protection and poverty reduction that promote improved human capital and reduction in intergenerational poverty.”

The Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar appreciated ADB’s commitment to supporting the Government of Pakistan and its people and said that the “assistance from ADB will help further strengthen the national social protection program and provide support to the poorest segment of the population under the Government’s Ehsaas strategy.” He emphasized that “Ehsaas is a multi-pronged strategy encompassing many pro-poor initiatives which not only aim for poverty alleviation but also include poverty graduation programs.”

He highlighted that additional financing for the project will enable the disbursement of unconditional cash transfer payments to eligible BISP beneficiaries and further improve BISP’s capacity for financial management, policy research, data analysis and intervention design.

The Secretary BISP, Mr. Bhutta added that “the Government valued the long-standing partnership of ADB and its support for the Ehsaas strategy”. He said that “the policy research unit that will also be established under the project will help BISP in developing and refining the design of new initiatives for promoting primary education and to address the issue of stunting among the poor population through conditional cash transfers”.