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  • Report
  • 1 April 2021

Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Bangladesh: Chapter 9

Conclusion and recommendations

chapter 9

Bangladesh has experienced strong and continued economic growth despite its high vulnerability to natural hazards, partly owing to significant progress in disaster management. The highly localised and large-scale Rohingya refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazar district also has not affected the country’s development trajectory. However, as the crisis has become more protracted, longer term needs of the host and refugee communities have grown. Covid-19 has further exposed the crisis vulnerability of large parts of the Bangladeshi population and has been met with large volumes of support from development donors. While Bangladesh continues to improve its disaster management capabilities through innovative approaches, the government’s focus on repatriation has limited the scope for long-term assistance to refugees. Development assistance to host communities has increased but is fragmented and insufficient. With the added stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, it remains to be seen how well the government with support from international development actors will be able to assist with its population’s recovery.

Recommendations for strengthening the effectiveness with which development actors address risk and vulnerabilities and build resilience and peace for people affected by or at risk of crises are set out below. These recommendations are intended primarily for international development actors working in Bangladesh, but they may also have wider relevance for actors in other protracted crisis contexts.

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Policy and strategy

Ensure joined-up diplomatic engagement with the government to facilitate durable solutions to protracted crises

Bilateral donors, MDBs and UN agencies should use their diplomatic representations with the Bangladesh government in a concerted effort to overcome political obstacles to achieving sustainable solutions to the Rohingya refugee crisis. There is growing evidence that structural needs in host and refugee communities in Cox’s Bazar district are growing, are an obstacle to socioeconomic development and cannot be fully met by humanitarian assistance. With pressures on bilateral donors’ aid budgets due to the Covid-19 pandemic,[1] there is no guarantee that they can continue to provide sufficient funding for short-term emergency assistance in annual cycles. Development actors should build on this information and their long-standing partnerships with the government to progress the dialogue on durable solutions as, for instance, the MDBs already have started to do. Especially now, as safe and dignified repatriation has become more uncertain in light of the military coup in Myanmar in early 2021, there is an increasing need to implement a coordinated medium-term approach to the crisis response. Research on what this might look like in the context of the Rohingya refugee response already exists[2] and the Global Compact on Refugees provides corresponding objectives to draw on.[3] It will be critical to build the evidence base on the potential cost-effectiveness and socioeconomic benefits that a longer term approach would bring to allow for an informed discussion with the government.


Expand support to the local government in crisis-affected regions

MDBs, bilateral donors and UN agencies should deepen their engagement with the local government in Cox’s Bazar district for it to better cope with the localised refugee crisis. This offers them a way to address the ‘missing middle’ between top-level institutional support to the central government and public service delivery in crisis-affected regions. In a country with historically centralised development planning processes, the districts are an operational entity to implement policies set nationally in a vertical ministry structure. They lack the capacity and resources for subnational development planning, which is increasingly necessary as the refugee crisis grows more protracted. Bilateral donors and MDBs already provide some support to build the local government’s capacity to deliver public services in Bangladesh. They need to increase their long-term investment in local government capacity to Cox’s Bazar district and to regions most vulnerable to natural hazards to ensure no one is left behind in the development process. The DDGP in Cox’s Bazar district, once fully formulated, will form part of these decentralisation efforts, but it requires strong backing from the national government and wide buy-in from UN agencies, bilateral donors and MDBs to be able to provide a coherent framework that guides local, national and international development efforts in the district.

Provide increased support to local civil society and private sector in crisis-affected regions

Bangladesh represents both opportunities and challenges for increased engagement of development actors with local and national NGOs and the private sector. Greater support for the latter was provided by development donors in response to the economic impacts of Covid-19, but it was largely neglected in the context of the refugee response in Cox’s Bazar district. Targeted measures in the form of emergency loan facilities, vocational training and the generation of employment opportunities will be necessary to boost private sector development in the district. There are few financing mechanisms directly funding local and national NGOs to support longer term recovery in terms of disaster management or to meet development needs in Cox’s Bazar district. Development assistance with a longer timeframe would be well placed to address some of the key challenges to a localised crisis response and recovery by, for example, providing designated funding for capacity building. To avoid a proliferation of implementing partners for individual donors, assistance to local and national NGOs could be provided through intermediary funding mechanisms such as pooled funds or by increasing support to NGO consortia. Consortia of international and local and national NGOs can facilitate knowledge exchange between participating organisations and provide reassurance to risk-averse donors by including both trusted and new partners.

Coordination, planning and prioritisation

Increase the coherence of existing coordination structures for humanitarian and development assistance

The coordination mechanisms in Bangladesh for disaster management and response are perceived to be functioning well separately, even though the LCG-DER was inactive at the time of research and needs to be reactivated to fill the coordination gap on longer term disaster management. However, there is scope to incorporate the disaster risk monitoring and warning systems that are already used by the HCTT into development planning for agriculture and rural development or for climate change and environment by connecting with the respective LCGs. A joint analysis of needs and risks in those sectors, involving humanitarian and development actors, could enable risk-informed development planning, which the Government of Bangladesh explicitly calls for in its National Plan for Disaster Management 2021–2025. As disaster risks differ by region, this risk-informed planning is linked with building the planning capacity of local governments in disaster-prone regions.

In Cox’s Bazar district, the Rohingya refugee response can only include a limited range of development coordination activities in the primarily humanitarian JRP, which also covers assistance to host communities in the two sub-districts with refugee camps. While some development actors, for instance the MDBs, already coordinate their activities with the ISCG, other development actors operating in the district need to follow their lead. The DDGP could in future provide coherence to these development efforts at the subnational level, but interviewees highlight that this is unlikely to be operational soon due to ongoing discussions with the government. Until then, development donors should coordinate their assistance to Cox’s Bazar district on an ad hoc basis with the help of the UNRCO. Another transitional approach suggested by research participants is to employ the SDG localisation framework in the district.[4] The discussions around the use of this framework in Bangladesh are still in their early stages. Once the DDGP is operational, it should ensure a close exchange of information with the ISCG to ensure that it complements the crisis response by meeting the longer term needs of host communities and refugees.

Programming approaches

Replicate joint programming for stronger coordination between donors and greater coherence between implementers

In the absence of shared planning frameworks for the Rohingya refugee response, joint programming across humanitarian and development objectives is an effective means to operationalise coordination and planning between multiple donors and implementers. These arrangements thereby provide a way for donors to incentivise planning across collective outcomes and according to the respective implementers’ areas of expertise with a clear division of labour. In Bangladesh, joint programming in Cox’s Bazar district has enabled multiple UN agencies to combine their sectoral expertise to address issues of deforestation, livelihoods and fuel needs in the refugee and host communities. Funded through the global Multi-Partner Trust Fund and with several bilateral donor contributions it provides coherence to donors’ efforts in the district. Building on this experience, there might be scope to establish similar joint programming initiatives in other sectors in dialogue with the ISCG and the respective line ministries. Potential areas of synergy for humanitarian and development actors include shock-responsive social protection; livelihoods, agriculture and food security; and disaster management and climate resilience.

Financing tools

Increase tailored development assistance to crisis-affected regions and improve subnational reporting

Bilateral development donors and MDBs need to ensure that sufficient financial resources from their support for national development programmes reach people affected by the protracted refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazar district. While several donors have targeted some of their development assistance subnationally to the district since 2018, it remains fragmented and is perceived to be insufficient to address structural development needs. Targeted development assistance to crisis-affected regions should be captured through comprehensive subnational reporting by, for example, publishing geographic information of activities to the IATI. The DDGP (once fully formulated and operational) should provide a comprehensive overview of development needs in the district, against which the volume of contributions can then be assessed. There needs to be increased transparency on development efforts and needs in Cox’s Bazar district to facilitate better targeting of development funds, enable mutual accountability processes with the government, and improve coordination and complementarity with humanitarian funding.

Use development finance to scale up anticipatory programmes

Development donors should provide additional funding for the scale up of forecast-based financing and anticipatory action in Bangladesh while gradually embedding both with the government’s own response and recovery systems. The innovative anticipatory action pilots that took place as part of the humanitarian response to 2020 monsoon floods could be an entry point for development funding to cover upfront investments in preparedness and support embedding the learnings with government systems and procedures. In the short term, development assistance could support the creation of forecast-based contingency funds or other forms of risk financing in disaster-prone parts of the country. This process should involve humanitarian funds (e.g. CERF or Start Fund) and implementers with experience in anticipatory funding and programming models. This could be accompanied by a longer term process to consolidate and mature social protection systems so that they can provide shock-responsive support to crisis-affected people. Development funding should support the long-term process necessary to change government mindsets and systems reorienting from approaches that respond after an emergency to include those with a greater focus on anticipatory action.

Organisational issues

Improve coherence of bilateral donors’ planning and financing of humanitarian and development assistance

Donors in Bangladesh with separate agencies for humanitarian and development assistance should consider organising management structures, strategic planning and high-level budget allocation decisions around collective national priorities to strengthen the overall coherence of their support. Within this, they could ringfence a humanitarian budget where necessary and relative to emergency needs for disaster and refugee response to safeguard humanitarian principles. Donor-specific coherence can be strengthened through shared strategic frameworks for development and humanitarian departments in the context of disaster resilience and response, or for protracted displacement situations. Guided by a joint strategy, donors should put in place or strengthen internal processes for joint needs assessments, planning and programming. This could initially focus on certain geographic regions, such as Cox’s Bazar, or response areas, such as disaster management and response. As a minimum (if restructuring is not possible in the medium term and all organisational processes continue to be carried out in parallel) there should be sufficient information sharing between the humanitarian and development donor departments to ensure both types of assistance complement each other where appropriate and don’t undermine one another.

Adapt organisational processes for subnational crisis contexts

Development donors and implementing agencies should ensure that their organisational processes are tailored to subnational crisis contexts, such as the Rohingya refugee crisis, and embed crisis-sensitive response approaches. If possible, these actors should have a local presence, which some donors have already implemented but others are yet to follow suit. Donors and implementers should support decentralised decision making processes to enable agile and context-specific assistance to Cox’s Bazar district. Local partnerships can add context-specific knowledge and understanding of crisis dynamics. Presence at the subnational level can also leverage engagement in the capital with the central government on development needs of crisis-affected people through greater awareness of subnational priorities. Actors that are closely involved at the national and subnational levels, such as the UNRCO, can act as an intermediary for donors unable to post staff subnationally. Once the DDGP is formulated successfully, it can provide a valuable point of reference for donors on subnational development needs in Cox’s Bazar district. Where flexible and decentralised decision-making is not possible, existing systems should be streamlined to ensure timely and efficient decision-making and communication between the field, country and global levels. This should build on learnings from the development response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which underlined the importance for development donors and implementers to be flexible and shock responsive. Both sets of actors should consolidate learnings on what organisational processes enabled or prevented them to stay engaged as the crisis hit.