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  • Report
  • 1 April 2021

Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Bangladesh: Chapter 1


chapter 1

This country report on Bangladesh contributes to a multi-country study[1] focusing on the role of development actors in addressing long-term needs in crisis contexts and supporting operationalisation of the humanitarian−development−peace (HDP) nexus (Box 1). The other focus countries are Cameroon[2] and Somalia.[3]

Bangladesh was selected as a focus country and its experience can inform global policy and practice for several reasons. Firstly, Bangladesh made steady progress in social and economic development over several decades with support from the international development community, but the influx of nearly one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into the Cox’s Bazar district has led to a localised, large-scale and protracted humanitarian crisis. It therefore offers an example of crisis management in a context in which bilateral donors and multilateral development institutions are engaged over the long term and where the government has capably pursued planned economic development. Secondly, due to its geography, Bangladesh is affected by severe and recurring natural hazards and is extremely vulnerable to climate change. It has taken a proactive and long-term approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR), which may be relevant to other contexts transitioning from emergency responses to the longer term management of climate-related shocks. Finally, Bangladesh has a tradition of nationally led disaster management, with longstanding engagement of national and local NGOs. It therefore offers a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities to localisation and what this means in the context of stronger humanitarian and development cooperation.

As part of Development Initiatives’ broader programme of work on the nexus, 2019 research on donor approaches identified a gap in evidence on the ways in which development actors address the longer term development needs of vulnerable people and structural causes of crisis.[4] The evidence gap was corroborated in the research of others, including the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).[5] This report aims to improve understanding of how development assistance currently targets crisis-affected people and addresses the structural causes of crisis within Bangladesh. It explores how development actors support the delivery of joined-up responses in Bangladesh by working alongside and in collaboration with humanitarian actors at the strategic, practical and institutional levels. It identifies examples of good practice, learnings and recommendations for how development assistance can better prevent and respond to crisis situations and support the delivery of the HDP nexus agenda, both within Bangladesh and potentially elsewhere. One of the limitations of this research in covering a range of issues and actors is the trade-off with the degree of depth we were able to look into specific areas. It is therefore not intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive review, and various observations that would benefit from further research are highlighted in the report.

As this research was carried out, an additional large-scale crisis unfolded in the country in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its implications for this research were taken into consideration to the extent possible. Key informant interviews took place before and after the peak of Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh in 2020, so during a time when the situation in Bangladesh was changing significantly week by week. Given the pandemic had not yet existed when the research framework was designed, additional questions on its consequences for development actors were added throughout the research. This made it difficult to extract insights on all aspects covered by this research, but where relevant these are included below.

Research findings are based on a desk review of relevant documentation and key informant interviews at national and district levels with 50 representatives of bilateral donors, multilateral development banks (MDBs), UN agencies, government representatives, and international and national NGOs engaging in Bangladesh (Appendix 1).

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Box 1

Definitions of key terms

Nexus: This paper uses ‘nexus’ or ‘triple nexus’ as shorthand terms for the connections between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding approaches. We align with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) definition:

“‘Nexus approach’ refers to the aim of strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity. The approach seeks to capitalise on the comparative advantages of each pillar – to the extent of their relevance in the specific context – in order to reduce overall vulnerability and the number of unmet needs, strengthen risk management capacities and address root causes of conflict.”[6]

Achieving collaboration, coherence and complementarity means quite different things to different actors. We understand the three ambitions to sit on a spectrum from complementarity to coherence, with complementarity being the minimum requirement for approaching the nexus. As a maximal approach, the nexus can fundamentally challenge existing divisions between humanitarian, development and peace systems, encouraging stronger coherence and working towards shared outcomes. The concept of shared or collective outcomes was conceived by the UN in preparation for and follow-up to the World Humanitarian Summit and recently adopted in the UN-IASC Light Guidance on Collective Outcomes.[7] As a minimum approach, all actors continue to deliver alongside one another through their separate systems and in line with their own objectives, but they do so in a way that is mutually reinforcing and avoids undermining each other’s goals. This can include integrating peace and/or resilience approaches into their work in a way that is aligned with their mandates and goals, without necessarily working together closely.

This report focuses explicitly on the role of development actors, covering the development–peace and development–humanitarian nexuses. Specifically, this means understanding how development actors are working collaboratively, coherently and complementarily with humanitarian and peace actors at the strategic, practical and institutional levels to address the needs of vulnerable crisis-affected populations. This will translate into actions under a range of existing concepts including resilience, recovery, inclusion and peacebuilding, and embedding risk, among others.

Resilience: We align with the OECD DAC definition:

“The ability of households, communities, and nations to absorb and recover from shocks, whilst positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term stresses, change and uncertainty. Resilience is about addressing the root causes of crises whilst strengthening the capacities and resources of a system in order to cope with risks, stresses and shocks.”[8]

Resilience is understood as cross-cutting to humanitarian, development and peacebuilding activities.

Recovery: This is the restoration, and improvement where appropriate, of facilities, livelihoods and living conditions of disaster-affected communities, including efforts to reduce disaster risk factors, largely through development assistance.[9]

Development: This report focuses explicitly on the role of development actors and actions in crisis contexts. Here, we understand ‘development’ as long-term support to developing countries to deliver sustainable solutions for addressing poverty, supporting livelihoods and providing basic services, with a particular focus on those in greatest need and furthest behind. The development actors that are the main focus of this study are MDBs, OECD DAC member government entities responsible for development cooperation, and UN entities with a development (or dual humanitarian−development) mandate.

Peace: There are many ways to understand conflict and peace and clear overlaps with development and resilience. In this report, where there is not yet consensus on what is covered in the ‘peace’ aspect of the triple nexus, we understand it to include conflict prevention, conflict sensitivity (to ensure programming avoids harm and where possible builds peace), and mediation efforts between host and refugee communities. In this research it also includes efforts to tackle violent extremism.

Humanitarian action: Humanitarian action is intended to:

“…save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and after manmade crises and disasters caused by natural hazards, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for when such situations occur.”[10]

Furthermore, humanitarian action should be governed by the key humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.