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Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Bangladesh: Chapter 5

Coordination, prioritisation and planning

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This section outlines the coordination mechanisms in Bangladesh for humanitarian and development assistance to assess the potential to join up assessments, planning and delivery across the two. For both, there are different coordination bodies depending on the type of crisis (humanitarian) or sector (development). There is no designated body to bring together development and humanitarian actors at the national level, and an integrated framework for coordinating financing across the two is also absent (although in the initial stages of formation). At the district level in Cox’s Bazar, the RRRC is responsible for management and oversight of the Rohingya refugee response. The Senior Coordinator of the ISCG Secretariat in Cox’s Bazar district ensures the overall coordination of the Rohingya refugee response, including liaison with the RRRC, District Deputy Commissioner and government authorities. The Rohingya refugee response can only include a limited range of development activities in a primarily humanitarian plan. There is hope that the DDGP will eventually fill this coordination gap in Cox’s Bazar district, however the planning process has been delayed and is met with varying expectations. The government has a strong role in coordinating disaster management at the national and local levels. For international actors, separate coordination mechanisms exist for development and humanitarian activities related to natural hazards. These distinct functions are perceived to be justified, even though there is greater scope to transfer humanitarian expertise on risk assessments into development planning.

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Humanitarian and development coordination

Distinct humanitarian coordination mechanisms in Bangladesh for different crisis responses, with different ministries and UN agencies involved, are challenging to integrate with separate development cooperation at the national level. There are currently three humanitarian coordination structures in Bangladesh:

  1. The Rohingya response is led and coordinated by the Government of Bangladesh. For the humanitarian community, the Strategic Executive Group (SEG) provides overall guidance for the Rohingya refugee response and engages with the Government of Bangladesh at the national level, including through liaison with the National Task Force (NTF) chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relevant line Ministries. The NTF provides oversight and strategic guidance for the overall response. The UN Resident Coordinator, United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative and International Organization for Migration (IOM) Chief of Mission serve as the SEG co-chairs. At the field level in Cox’s Bazar, the Senior Coordinator of the ISCG Secretariat ensures the overall coordination of the response, including liaison with the RRRC, District Deputy Commissioner and government authorities at the sub-district level. The ISCG Senior Coordinator chairs the Heads of Sub-Office Group, which brings together the heads of operational UN agencies and members of the international and Bangladeshi NGO community working on the response, as well as donor community representatives based in Cox’s Bazar. The Senior Coordinator also convenes the Sector Coordinators’ Group, to ensure inter-sector coordination in the response.[1]
  2. The HCTT, which meets in Dhaka, coordinates the humanitarian response to disasters caused by natural hazards and is co-led by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and the UNRCO.
  3. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare coordinates the Covid-19 response with support from the WHO-led Inter-Agency Covid-19 Task Team. The HCTT also coordinates complementary humanitarian support in response to natural disasters within the pandemic. Given the fast-changing nature of the pandemic response in Bangladesh at the time of our research, we were unable to interview the actors involved and therefore coordination of the Covid-19 response is not covered in detail.

On the development side, different forums exist for top-level strategic alignment and sectoral coordination – the latter with varying levels of engagement. The Economic Relations Division in the Ministry of Finance is in charge of the government’s National Policy on Development Cooperation. The policy’s goal is to ensure the coherence of international development assistance to Bangladesh, its alignment with national development priorities and greater aid effectiveness.[2] However, it does not explicitly cover disaster relief. The government’s Joint Cooperation Strategy further defines the institutional hierarchy of coordinating development assistance to Bangladesh. An annual Bangladesh development forum convenes government ministries and development partners to review progress and outline priorities for the coming year at a strategic level. The platform for a regular dialogue between the government and development actors is LCGs. The Joint Cooperation Strategy for 2010–2015 identifies 18 LCGs across a range of sectors and an additional six sub-working groups in the governance LCG.[3] The activity of the LCGs and engagement of stakeholders, however, differs between them depending on the actors involved. A 2019 evaluation of the LCGs’ ways of working in Bangladesh found that overall their capacity to provide effective coordination between the government and development partners weakened in recent years.[4] The regularity of meetings and participation declined, leading the evaluators to call for reducing the number of LCGs and to formalise their operational procedures and governance, for instance by establishing a standing secretariat that oversees the LCGs. Substantial changes to the LCG structure will be required to reinstate it as an effective development cooperation mechanism.

Despite detailed domestic development planning and forums for international development cooperation, Bangladesh lacks a coordinated framework to bring these funding streams together. The process of working towards an Integrated National Financing Framework to fund the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is currently underway, having started in July 2020 and scheduled to complete its first phase in 2022 with support from the Joint SDG Fund.[5] The ambition is to revisit the Development Finance Assessment prepared in 2017 with a particular focus on gender, to operationalise a gender-sensitive financing strategy for the eighth five-year plan, and to establish a coordination and monitoring mechanism between different sources of financing.[6] Across these three objectives, emphasis is placed on improving the volume and effectiveness of climate finance for mitigation and adaptation. The Government of Bangladesh has a strong commitment to reaching the SDGs, and its corresponding high-level SDG committee is currently considering the inclusion of funding coordination in its terms of reference. The next step is the establishment of multi-stakeholder platforms – bringing together government ministries, national civil society, international development actors and the private sector – to align funding efforts for each of the three SDGs targeted by the Integrated National Financing Framework.[7] At this stage, climate change and its impacts is a focus of one of these three SDGs. It provides an opportunity to harmonise wider resource flows, including development and humanitarian assistance, for the risk reduction and management of climate-related disasters. While the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the leading government ministry for the corresponding SDG, it will be crucial to involve the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and appropriate development and humanitarian actors. With regards to the Rohingya refugee crisis, funding flows to address it will not be incorporated into the framework in the near future as current plans do not yet seek to align financing for any SDG related to forced displacement. Development and humanitarian financing to support the refugee response in the Cox’s Bazar district will continue separately from a national framework, and at the district level they will be largely separate from each other. These will be through JRPs for humanitarian funding[8] and eventually the DDGP (once fully formulated and operational) for development funding.

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Coordination of development support to Cox’s Bazar district

At the district level in Cox’s Bazar, the Rohingya refugee response can only include limited development activities in a primarily humanitarian plan. Immediately following the influx of refugees, a large-scale emergency response was drawn up quickly with little capacity to address consequences for the district’s development. Discussions between the ISCG and MDBs and bilateral donor development agencies, which sought to complement the JRP’s activities with development funds, started in 2018, with funding scaling up in 2019. While the JRP continues to focus on emergency relief, one of its strategic objectives focuses on the wellbeing of host communities in the Ukhiya and Teknaf sub-districts, thereby directly targeting development needs in the areas surrounding the camps.[9] This has been well received by development actors interviewed, who expressed little interest in setting up parallel coordination structures. Coordination through the JRP, however, remains challenging for development actors that only have a country presence in Dhaka and not in Cox’s Bazar district (see the ‘Organisational issues’ section). Also, the structural development needs in the district go far beyond what could be covered through annual crisis response plans, requiring a government-led coordination mechanism that can provide long-term structure to the increasing development assistance in the region.

The joint UN and World Bank effort to support the government in developing the DDGP aims to address this gap, but the process is gradual – buy-in varies across stakeholders. In 2019, the UN in Bangladesh, with technical leadership from UNDP, started (at the request of the District Deputy Commissioner) the conceptualisation of a five-year, government-led development plan for Cox's Bazar district. The ambition is to streamline development support to the respective line ministries across UN agencies and other development actors in the district. The World Bank has since partnered with the UN in conceptualising the DDGP. Several interviewees recognised the need for the DDGP and welcomed the initiative. However, in practice, the process has faced challenges and is gradual. While government engagement with the process at the district level is strong through the District Deputy Commissioner, more political engagement at the national level is necessary. There is no precedent for district-level development planning in Bangladesh, meaning that it is challenging to create a new subnational development planning approach. It is also a challenge to embed this new, long-term planning process in existing local governance structures given the historically centralised nature of development planning in Bangladesh. Some interviewees felt that not all UN agencies were committed to contributing sufficiently given the amount of technical expertise required to support the various line ministries in their planning.[10] There were further concerns that the DDGP might be a list of distinct infrastructure projects and lack a coherent strategy for the development trajectory of Cox’s Bazar district. However, the DDGP has evolved to address this, for instance through the World Bank’s forthcoming Inclusive Growth Diagnostic for the district that will highlight critical growth drivers and potential constraints for leveraging these drivers for sustainable growth. It also remains to be seen to what extent the DDGP will include long-term planning in the camps. The most recent concept submitted to the government proposes the DDGP as an inclusive, phased and multi-sectoral approach that focuses on the medium to long-term development of Cox’s Bazar district. Even though the concept for the DDGP is now with the national government and awaiting endorsement, the Covid-19 pandemic diverted attention from this process and further delayed approval. At the time of our research, it was uncertain whether, when and in what form the planning will be resumed and what implications this might have for the scope of the DDGP.

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Coordination of disaster management

The Government of Bangladesh is committed to disaster management at the highest levels and coordinates this through structures at national and subnational levels. The National Disaster Management Council, headed by the Prime Minister, provides strategic direction, while the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief coordinates disaster management and response across all government agencies. At the subnational level, disaster management committees (at district, sub-district, union and ward level) coordinate implementation of disaster management and relief. The greatly reduced number of casualties from natural hazards in Bangladesh over the last few decades are a testament to the improved coordination and implementation of disaster management by the government and local communities.

For international actors, separate humanitarian and development mechanisms for the coordination of disaster-related activities are perceived to function well, but separation makes joint assessments and planning difficult and undermines risk-informed development planning. The HCTT is the mechanism to coordinate the preparedness and humanitarian response to natural hazards between the government, the UN and international agencies, while longer term support to DRR is coordinated through the LCG on Disaster Emergency Response (LCG-DER). Both are co-led by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and, according to interviewees, the government generally plays a stronger leadership role in the LCG than in the HCTT. Many of the same institutions participate in both the HCTT and the LCG-DER and stakeholders consulted felt that despite overlap the two groups had distinct functions and there was good information flow between the two as formalised in the HCTT’s terms of reference.[11] For example, humanitarian multi-sectoral assessments carried out under the HCTT feed into and inform the LCG-DER’s activities. However, the LCG-DER was inactive at the time of our research, creating a gap in leadership and coordination on DRR issues. The separation of the two coordination mechanisms mirrors the separation in the international aid system between DRR and disaster relief. The HCTT is a standing mechanism – therefore called into action only to respond to particular disasters – and increasingly focused on preparedness and anticipatory action (see the ‘Programming approaches’ section). It is therefore moving closer towards a crisis financing system with a larger share of pre-agreed financing for predictable needs and based on modellable risk and less on ex-post funding as last resort. However, as pointed out by the Centre for Disaster Protection, this should be underpinned by risk-conscious development efforts.[12] The HCTT already implements risk monitoring and warning systems in contingency plans. Consideration of these risks should be mainstreamed across development actors, which will have to provide most international support to reduce risks over the longer term. This requires a closer exchange of information on risks and coordination between the HCTT with other LCGs beyond the LCG-DER, for instance the LCGs on agriculture and rural development and on climate change and environment that are led by line ministries other than the HCTT’s primary point of contact, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.

Notes

  • 4

    de Tommaso G. and Haque F., 2019. Bangladesh LCG Working Groups Evaluation: Final Report. Not available online.

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