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Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Bangladesh: Chapter 2

Crisis context

Chapter 2 of 9

Bangladesh has experienced sustained and strong economic growth in recent decades, which translated into the final recommendation by the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) to graduate the country from least developed country (LDC) status by 2026. In 2020, the country faced three different types of crises: recurrent natural hazards, the protracted Rohingya refugee crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. Cyclones, floods and landslides have repeatedly threatened development progress for decades. Government-led efforts on disaster management and response, with support from international development and humanitarian actors, have increased the countries’ resilience to climate-related shocks. The large influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 2017 triggered a localised crisis in Cox’s Bazar district. As the crisis grows more protracted, refugees continue to rely on significant volumes of humanitarian assistance with longer term needs unmet. The government maintains a strong stance on the repatriation of the refugees, which impedes long-term planning of the refugee response. The possibility of repatriation remains uncertain following the military coup in Myanmar in early 2021. Development actors have scaled up their activities in the district from 2018 onwards. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh reduced economic growth and increased poverty despite large-scale mitigation measures from the government and MDBs. It also added another dimension of need to existing humanitarian crises from natural hazards and forced displacement, while hindering the provision of assistance.

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Social and economic development

Bangladesh has experienced continued strong economic growth and is set to graduate from LDC status by 2026. According to World Bank data, GDP grew by an average 6.6% annually between 2005 and 2019, recording its highest annual growth rate in 2019 at 8.2% since 1974. The percentage of the population living below the national poverty line has more than halved since 2000. This has been driven by a structural transformation of the economy from agriculture to industrial production and services, an expansion of labour-intensive employment, especially in the export-oriented ready-made garment industry, and growth in remittances from migrant workers.[1] The country's development progress led the UN CDP to recommend the graduation of Bangladesh from LDC status by 2026, also raising the bar for the country's crisis-management policies.

Despite this impressive progress, the pace in poverty reduction has slowed and there is a long way to go to end extreme poverty. In 2018, 22% of the population lived below the national poverty line and as of 2016 15% were living in extreme poverty.[2] A World Bank study (2019)[3] notes that around half of the population can be considered vulnerable to poverty and that between 2010 and 2016, despite accelerated economic growth, the rate of poverty reduction slowed compared with previous years. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Bangladesh’s development trajectory, especially for households reliant on income from labour-intensive sectors and remittances, as discussed in more detail below.

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Disaster risks

Bangladesh is extremely prone to disasters and ranks among the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. Situated in the world’s largest river delta close to sea level, Bangladesh’s heavily populated coastal zone is exposed to recurring cyclones, storm surges and floods, as witnessed again during the 2020 monsoon floods. These are becoming more frequent as climate change accelerates. Bangladesh has, however, succeeded over the last 30 years in reducing the death toll during recurring tropical cyclones from hundreds of thousands (over 500,000 in 1971 and 138,882 in 1991) to thousands (4,234 in 2007)[4] and an average of 64 lives are lost through storms per year since.[5] Nonetheless, the current and projected consequences of increasing disaster risk due to climate change are profound. As livelihoods are destroyed and coastal areas and river deltas become increasingly uninhabitable, Dhaka and other major cities are absorbing hundreds of thousands of migrants each year. Flooding and extreme weather events are already spurring migration, and the number of internal climate migrants is projected to reach between 3.6 and 13.3 million people according to different scenarios.[6] Some of these densely populated urban areas, including Dhaka and Sylhet, are located in zones vulnerable to earthquakes and thereby exposed to additional risks.

Industrialisation and population growth have come at the cost of environmental degradation, threatening further economic progress. With a population of over 160 million people in 2020 (ranked 10th in density in the world), Bangladesh has seen the over-exploitation of natural resources, including gradual deforestation and loss of mangrove forests that help protect coastal areas from cyclones.[7] These pressures are also present in the Cox’s Bazar district, where increased population density following the large influx of refugees has accelerated deforestation and the depletion of water resources.[8] Together, these impacts threaten economic productivity and poverty reduction gains, including by negatively impacting livelihoods and increasing vulnerability to disasters.

These complex environmental threats repeatedly cause food insecurity and disrupt livelihoods. As shown again by the 2020 monsoon floods and cyclone Amphan, largescale natural hazards in Bangladesh regularly damage crops and destroy livestock,[9] thereby limiting physical and economic access to food, and reduce livelihood opportunities by disrupting food value chains. In 2020, the strain on livelihoods by natural hazards was even greater due to the impacts of Covid-19.[10] Prior to 2020, there was little progress in reducing food insecurity nationally. Even though the percentage of the Bangladesh population in moderate-to-severe food insecurity decreased slightly from 32.2% in 2014–2016 to 31.5% in 2017–2019, the percentage of the population in severe food insecurity saw a small increase between the two time periods from 13.0% to 13.3%.[11] This reflects the challenge for development actors, especially in disaster-prone parts of the country, to improve food security through effective disaster management and resilient food production systems.

The constant threat of different types of hazards highlights the need for development actors to reduce disaster risk, improve disaster management capacities, and incorporate risk analysis and contingency planning into programming subnationally. For instance, a comparison of flood risk (2017 data) and extreme poverty levels by district (estimated 2019 data) visually conveys these overlapping challenges (Figure 1). High flood risks and higher levels of extreme poverty can be found in the north and north east of Bangladesh, and they are most pronounced along the coastlines in the south – including Cox’s Bazar district, with 38% of its area at risk of severe flooding and an estimated extreme poverty rate of 21.6% in 2019.

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Figure 1: Extreme poverty headcount ratios (2019) and area at risk of severe flooding (2017) in Bangladesh by district

Figure 1: Extreme poverty headcount ratios (2019) and area at risk of severe flooding (2017) in Bangladesh by district

A chart showing extreme poverty headcount ratios (2019) and area at risk of severe flooding (2017) in Bangladesh by district.

Source: Development Initiatives based on World Bank PovcalNet, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation data.

Notes: Poverty data for 2019 are estimates based on our own methodology.[12] ‘Extreme poverty’ refers to the share of population living on below 2011 Purchasing Power Parity $1.90 per day.

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The Rohingya refugee crisis

The large influx of Rohingya refugees in 2017 has triggered a protracted crisis in Bangladesh with refugees continuing to face longer term needs and disaster risk. The country hosts 877,710 registered Rohingya refugees,[13] a stateless Muslim ethnic minority who were driven out of Myanmar by a violent military crackdown. In August 2017, within the space of several months over 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, driven by a wave of killings, rape, torture and persecution perpetrated by the Myanmar military and security forces in Rakhine state.[14] This was by far the largest influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, which for four decades has hosted them arriving in several waves. Following the large influx, the refugees have been confined to overcrowded camps with 40,000 people per square kilometre in the Cox’s Bazar district, where they live in temporary shelters. During seasonal monsoon rains they are highly vulnerable to floods and landslides, although measures are being taken to reduce those risks. While humanitarian agencies have been able to meet refugees’ immediate lifesaving needs (e.g. emergency care for injuries and rape, and distribution of food and essential non-food items), there are major gaps in addressing medium-term needs such as building resilience, durable shelter, education and tackling gender-based violence as the crisis has become protracted.

The Government of Bangladesh’s official position, backed by international partners, is that Myanmar must create conditions for Rohingya refugees to repatriate – however large-scale returns are extremely unlikely in the near term. The bilateral agreement between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees affirms that returns should be voluntary, safe and dignified. Progress through dialogue between the Government of Myanmar and Rohingya communities has been slow.[15] According to one survey of around 1300 Rohingya refugees in 2020, 93% express the desire to eventually return to Myanmar; however, they are clear that they will not do so until the Myanmar government grants them citizenship and ensures their basic rights and security. The same survey finds that almost threequarters of respondents don’t believe that will happen within the next two years.[16] After continued clashes in Rakhine state throughout 2019 and 2020 between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, a ceasefire was brokered between the two sides with help from Japan in late 2020. This fragile progress was, however, undone by a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021, which was a major setback for repatriation plans and reintroduced great uncertainty on when safe and dignified returns might be possible.

The government’s focus on repatriation has made it challenging for humanitarian and development actors to engage in longer term planning for Rohingya refugees within Bangladesh. There have been restrictions on freedom of movement, livelihood support and formal education. In 2020 there was some progress in terms of education with the piloting of the Myanmar curriculum for 10,000 secondary students, although it remains to be phased in for the majority of the student population. The Rohingya refugees do not have the right to work in the local economy and the range of income-generating activities in the camps is also restricted. While a number of small stipends for voluntary work exist, their presence and scope varies across camps.[17] Some Rohingya refugees are also working informally in the Cox’s Bazar district, although at their own risk and thereby potentially heightening the tension with the local host population. Refugees remain dependent upon humanitarian aid: 94% of all Rohingya refugees were highly or moderately vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs according to a World Food Programme (WFP) assessment in 2020.[18]

The refugee influx has been an economic and environmental strain for Bangladeshis living in Cox’s Bazar. The influx has intensified pressure on limited environmental resources, employment opportunities, infrastructure and services. A steep rise in demand for firewood contributed to accelerated deforestation in the district. According to 2010 data, 33% of the population in Cox’s Bazar district fell below the national poverty line, which was slightly higher than the national figure of 32%. Updated estimates by Development Initiatives for 2019[19] show that the share of the population in the district below the national poverty line increased to 39%.[20] WFP also find a higher percentage in subjective poverty rates for Bangladeshi households in Cox’s Bazar, indicating fears of reduced livelihood opportunities.[21] This is partly due to the refugee camps being seen as an obstacle to the district’s development of the tourism sector and due to increased competition for employment, especially unskilled labour.

Despite international efforts to balance support to refugees and host communities, tensions persist between host and refugee communities, largely over economic competition and perceived unfair aid allocation. 25% of funding through the Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis (JRP) targets host communities, and the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other projects outside the JRP also benefit the district’s development (see ‘International funding to the Rohingya refugee response’ sub-section below). However, many Bangladeshis in Cox’s Bazar feel that aid has unfairly benefited the Rohingya refugees[22] and that the negative impact of the crisis on host communities hasn’t been sufficiently addressed. In a 2019 survey, more than half of local Bangladeshi (58%) and Rohingya people (55%) reported that there was no harmonious relationship between host and refugee communities. Both cite competition for employment and livelihoods as the main reason for social tensions.[23]

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The Covid-19 pandemic

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh have inhibited development progress and aggravated other crisis needs. The first Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh were confirmed by the Ministry of Health on 8 March 2020. Around a week later, the Ministry of Education closed all educational institutions to prevent the pandemic from spreading, and except for madrasas (Islamic religious schools) they continued to be closed throughout the entire year. From the end of March until 30 May, the government declared a public holiday, closing government offices, non-essential businesses and restricting movements. This ended at the end of May despite a rise in Covid-19 cases and infection rates peaking in July/August. Since then, infection rates have decreased to a relatively stable level, while testing capacity has been scaled up.[24] At the time of writing, most national containment measures are lifted except for the continued need to wear masks and school closures[25] in fear of a surge in cases.

As a consequence of the pandemic, economic growth in Bangladesh in 2020 has reduced and poverty increased. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) records real economic growth in 2020 at 3.8%, which is a drop of over 4 percentage points from 2019. Noting the uncertainty of projecting in the future, it however also expects the economy to climb back to 7.9% real growth in 2022.[26] Still, the General Economic Division estimates that Bangladesh’s poverty rate has risen to 30% as of June 2020,[27] which would be an 8% increase from 2018. Particularly affected by the lockdown measures are people working in the informal economy, while the garment industry – representing over 80% of Bangladesh’s exports – has been hit hard by the disruption of global trade.

The timings of cyclone Amphan and the monsoon floods affecting Bangladesh during the months of peak Covid-19 infection rates caused additional needs and made the response more difficult to implement. Livelihoods already affected by the lockdown and its economic ripple effects were put under further stress by these natural hazards. Physical distancing measures were extremely difficult to maintain in cyclone shelters and made the response more challenging.[28] Given the pandemic context, the ability for international organisations to increase their response was also limited.

Covid-19 has also detracted from development planning and programming and caused greater needs in the Cox’s Bazar district. The government lockdown suspended ‘non-essential’ programmes, limiting activities in the district to primarily humanitarian responses in the form of emergency food and medical services. In addition, aid workers faced additional restrictions on travel to the camps. Host communities have been badly hit economically, also by additional stress on the tourism sector through the pandemic. The district administration expects over 700,000 people to be affected by unemployment as consequence of Covid-19 related restrictions.[29] This has heightened fears over resource scarcity and food insecurity, which a recent study finds to be one of the most severe consequences of the pandemic in the district for host and refugee adolescents alike.[30]

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Domestic public resources

The Government of Bangladesh has one of the world’s lowest public expenditures as a share of its national income. It is measured at 15% of GDP by the IMF in 2020[31] and has remained between 13% and 15% since 2008. This is due to also having one of the lowest revenue-to-GDP ratios, with tax levels below the average for countries at a similar stage of economic development.[32] However in the context of consistent and significant economic growth, this means the government was able to sustain or even expand its investments in crisis resilience, risk reduction and response.

Social protection programmes in Bangladesh are highly fragmented and criticised for poor targeting, despite their importance for the government’s pro-poor growth plans. Social protection in Bangladesh is enshrined in the country’s constitution and an important aspect of the government’s five year plans to make economic growth pro-poor and inclusive. To that end there are over 100 different social protection programmes in Bangladesh that are spread across more than 20 line ministries,[33] leading to a fragmented implementation and coordination structure. The National Social Security Strategy initiated by the government in 2015 intends to consolidate these programmes and rationalise the number of actors involved, although much remains to be done. The government’s expenditure on social safety net programmes has grown significantly over time in terms of volumes in line with national income, while remaining at a relatively consistent level of between 2% and 2.5% of GDP since 2010.[34] Several studies[35] have, however, identified problems of low coverage and poor targeting with social safety nets, which lead to relatively small effects on poverty reduction. This has posed a challenge for the Covid-19 response.

The Government of Bangladesh has made substantial investments in DRR across multiple ministries. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief has the primary responsibility for developing and executing the country’s disaster management plan. Its allocated budget increased by almost 75% between the 2018 and 2020 fiscal years from US$700 million to US$1.2 billion,[36] and it remains at a slightly lower level of US$1.0 billion in the budget for the 2021 fiscal year. The expenditure on projects relevant to DRR and disaster preparedness is further spread across multiple ministries. The government’s Planning Commission identifies six ministries implementing 165 projects related to DRR between 2011 and 2015.[37] While this reflects a cross-departmental commitment to DRR, it also highlights the challenge of effective coordination across the government and between the government and other development actors focused on DRR.

While it is challenging to quantify domestic funding allocated by the Government of Bangladesh to the Rohingya refugee response, according to the information available its volume seems limited. Since 2017 the government contributed a total of US$42 million to the different JRPs according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian (OCHA)’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS) data. US$35 million of this went to the WFP in 2020 to support food security. The government also agreed to provide US$20 million as co-financing to the ADB’s Emergency Assistance Project in Cox’s Bazar district. The 2020 JRP makes it clear that, while the government provides leadership to the response, it is primarily implemented by humanitarian partners with the refugees and host communities and complemented by development partners operating alongside the plan.[38] There is some evidence available on the size of the government’s investment in preparing the previously uninhabited island Bhasan Char for the relocation of some 100,000 Rohingya refugees, which amounts to US$269 million.[39] It remains to be seen, however, to what extent this funding will benefit the response; the UN requires an independent technical and protection assessment of the island’s safety for refugees, ensuring the protection of the rights and quality of lives of refugees, before agreeing to engage operationally with the government’s initiative. It is also challenging to quantify subnational budget allocations in the absence of publicly available data. As the ongoing conceptualisation of the District Development and Growth Plan (DDGP) progresses (more detail under ‘Coordination, prioritisation and planning’ below), this might however change and provide greater insight to the funding provided by the government to different sectors and populations in the district. Nevertheless, the UN has highlighted the generosity of the Government and the population of Bangladesh in receiving and hosting Rohingya refugees.[40] Their willingness to accommodate this sizeable population of refugees – although with a continued emphasis of repatriation – is not to be understated.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and as of November 2020, the Government of Bangladesh announced 19 stimulus packages to alleviate stress on the population and economy. According to an analysis by the Centre for Policy Dialogue,[41] this represents 3.7% of GDP. While sizable, the extent of the government’s support relative to GDP ranks Bangladesh 22nd out of 31 Asian countries.[42] Most of these packages support the most affected sectors and industries, including export-oriented manufacturing, small and medium-sized enterprises, and agriculture. While some stimulus packages explicitly target vulnerable people, such as the extreme poor and the homeless, their financial scale is comparatively small. The Centre for Policy Dialogue therefore identifies inadequacies in the design of stimulus packages and social safety net measures in terms of reaching the most vulnerable people.[43] The section below contains a brief summary of international assistance seeking to fill those gaps.

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The international financing landscape

Composition of official development assistance

Official development assistance (ODA) to Bangladesh grew significantly over the last decade, from US$2.0 billion in 2010 to a record high of US$5.5 billion in 2019 (Figure 2). Bangladesh was the second largest ODA recipient in volume terms in 2019 (out of 143 recipients of ODA that year). ODA made up 1.8% of Bangladesh’s GDP in 2019, which is significantly greater than the weighted average for developing countries of 0.6%. The leading sectors for ODA to Bangladesh in 2019 were economic infrastructure and services (energy, transport and storage, banking and business) and social infrastructure and services (health, social protection, education, governance and security, and water, sanitation and hygiene). Funding to economic infrastructure and services grew almost five-fold over the last decade from US$337 million in 2010 to US$1.6 billion in 2019. This was driven by large amounts of assistance provided to the transport sector, including road and rail infrastructure, and to energy generation and distribution. ODA to social infrastructure and services more than doubled over the last decade to US$2.3 billion in 2019. Here the largest increase in terms of volumes since 2010 was witnessed by the education sector, receiving US$699 million in 2019. Support to social protection almost doubled from 2018 to 2019, reaching US$227 million.

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Figure 2: ODA to Bangladesh by aggregated sectoral group, 2010–2019

Figure 2: ODA to Bangladesh by aggregated sectoral group, 2010–2019
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Social infrastructure and services 1,079 1,057 1,235 1,371 1,340 1,495 1,717 1,849 1,909 2,273
Economic infrastructure and services 337 343 670 687 761 755 822 1,718 1,801 1,633
Multi-sector 271 354 339 443 362 392 348 361 324 327
Humanitarian assistance 105 95 100 100 129 121 133 366 601 801
Commodity aid and general programme assistance 108 103 228 429 181 304 39 81 85 87
Production sectors 102 86 151 163 198 208 195 185 181 265
Other 9 10 19 18 28 64 83 85 62 100
Total 2,011 2,047 2,740 3,211 2,999 3,339 3,339 4,644 4,962 5,487

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS) data.

Notes: Data is in constant 2018 prices.

The increase in total ODA to Bangladesh was accompanied by a notable shift from grants to concessional loans. Between 2010 and 2019, ODA loans to Bangladesh increased almost five-fold from US$755 million to US$3.7 billion. Loans are now the prominent finance type of ODA to Bangladesh, making up 67% of the total received in 2019, up from 37% in 2010 (Figure 3). Even though the proportion of grants as a share of total ODA to Bangladesh decreased, their volume increased from US$1.3 billion in 2010 to US$1.9 billion in 2019. The three main providers of concessional loans were also the three largest donors of ODA to Bangladesh over the last decade: the World Bank’s International Development Association (28% of total ODA between 2010 and 2019), Japan (19%) and the ADB (11%). The three next largest donors of total ODA to Bangladesh were the largest providers of ODA grants: the UK (8%), US (7%) and EU (4%).

Despite the significant increase in loans taken on by the Government of Bangladesh in recent years, a joint debt sustainability analysis in 2020 by the World Bank and IMF[44] concluded that the overall risk of debt distress for the country is low. The debt sustainability analysis takes into account the macroeconomic shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and notes that it leaves the ratio of external public and publicly guaranteed debt to GDP over the long term at a broadly similar level compared with pre-Covid-19 projections. Other sources with even stricter criteria for debt crises[45] share this assessment and also could not identify any risk of debt distress for 2020. This favourable position might be one reason why the government has so far decided not to participate in the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. World Bank data shows that this would result in a temporary suspension of debt service of the equivalent of only 0.1% of GDP.[46] This is due to MDBs making up almost three-quarters of outstanding debt repayments between May and December 2020. MDBs are unable to participate in a comparable scheme or they would lose their credit rating, but instead they support the pandemic response through concessional loans (see ‘International funding for the Covid-19 response’ sub-section below).

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Figure 3: ODA grants and loans as percentage of total ODA, 2010–2019

Figure 3: ODA grants and loans as percentage of total ODA, 2010–2019
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
ODA grants 1262 1232 1235 1451 1244 1198 1193 1406 1532 1853
ODA loans 755 825 1506 1764 1757 2180 2255 3312 3579 3698
Total 2017 2057 2741 3215 3001 3378 3448 4718 5111 5551

Sources: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS) data.

Notes: Data is in constant 2018 prices.

International funding for DRR, management and response

Bangladesh was the second largest recipient of ODA to DRR globally in 2018, receiving US$138 million (11% of the global total).[47] Based on 2019 data and including humanitarian funding directed to multi-hazard response preparedness, Bangladesh received a total of US$264 million in ODA to disaster preparedness and risk reduction, representing 5% of total ODA received that year. The largest bilateral donors of this funding in 2019 were the EU, UK, US, Sweden, Netherlands and Japan. MDBs also play a major role in climate resilience and DRR efforts in Bangladesh. Since 2007, the World Bank has invested over US$1.4 billion in disaster risk and climate resilience programmes in Bangladesh, including rehabilitating coastal embankments, construction and improvement of cyclone shelters, improving the disaster resilience of urban infrastructure and strengthening weather forecasting systems.[48] The ADB has made climate resilience, DRR and environmental sustainability a strategic priority across the entire Asia and Pacific region. It approved over $36 billion in climate financing to the region between 2011 and 2019 and is aiming to increase this to US$80 billion for 2019−2030.[49] In terms of ODA for DRR to Bangladesh, the ADB has consistently provided between US$15 and US$35 million per annum over the last six years.

The UN and bilateral donors support the government by filling gaps in the emergency response with humanitarian assistance. The Humanitarian Coordination Task Team (HCTT) – co-led by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (UNRCO) – coordinates humanitarian disaster preparedness, response and capacity building in Bangladesh. It has in recent years issued response plans to support flood and cyclone responses. The international humanitarian response acts as surge capacity to complement that of the national and local governments and Bangladeshi civil society. Between 2016 and 2019, those response plans had a relatively small volume of requirements, ranging between US$7 and US$27 million. It is difficult to track to what extent those requirements were met over the years, as those plans are not tracked in the UN OCHA’s FTS. Total humanitarian funding to Bangladesh prior to the Rohingya refugee crisis, however, consistently ranged between US$31 and US$67 million since 2009. Requirements for and funding to the intersectoral response to Covid-19, the 2020 floods and cyclone Amphan are tracked in the FTS. Of the US$60 million received so far against requirements of US$206 million, over 90% is for the Covid-19 response. The HCTT’s own monitoring dashboard for the monsoon response indicated that by the end of November 2020 it had received US$12 million in funding – a 70% funding gap.[50] By August 2020 the response to cyclone Amphan received US$11 million or 48% of its requirements.[51] There is a clear division of labour between international humanitarian actors and domestic authorities in terms of implementing disaster response, with an increasing shift towards anticipatory action. This is explored in greater detail in the different sections below.


International funding to the Rohingya refugee response

Humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh has grown substantially in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. This applies both in terms of total volumes, from US$105 million in 2010 to US$810 million in 2019, and as a share of the total ODA to Bangladesh, from 5% in 2010 to 15% in 2019. While OECD DAC data for 2020 ODA is currently unavailable, the UN OCHA FTS data shows that the volumes of humanitarian funding to Bangladesh have declined slightly in 2020 to US$766 million. Despite the large volumes of humanitarian funding in recent years, the funding gap for the JRP’s requirements widened in 2020. After three years of almost three-quarters of requirements met between 2017 and 2019 (higher than the average for response plans globally),[52] only 58% of requirements were met in 2020.[53] The effect of the Rohingya refugee crisis on the share of humanitarian assistance of total ODA is evident in Figure 4, as it starts to increase in 2017 with the onset of the crisis to reach its peak in 2019. The composition of humanitarian ODA has shifted from a focus on disaster preparedness before the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2017 to the provision of services, food and other material assistance. Still, multi-hazard response preparedness received its largest amount of funding yet in 2019 at US$149 million.

The very small share of ODA to Bangladesh with the primary purpose of civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution has been scaled up slightly following the Rohingya refugee influx. Between 2015 and 2017, OECD DAC members and multilateral donors provided between US$1 million and US$3 million for the promotion of intercommunal peace as a primary objective. This increased to US$13 million in 2018 and US$10 million in 2019. Despite the large relative increase of funding to civilian peacebuilding and conflict prevention, it only represented 0.3% and 0.2% of total ODA to Bangladesh in each year, respectively (Figure 4). Also, not all of this funding is in direct response to tensions caused by the Rohingya refugee crisis. Around a quarter across both years is in support of activities that according to project descriptions aim to prevent or counter violent extremism. According to interviewees there is, however, a greater amount of funding that at least partially addresses intercommunal peace in the Cox’s Bazar district than is visible on the OECD DAC portal, which includes social cohesion alongside other objectives (such as livelihoods) and therefore is likely to be reported under different purpose codes.

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Figure 4: ODA to humanitarian, peace and development, 2010–2019

Figure 4: ODA to humanitarian, peace and development, 2010–2019
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Humanitarian ODA 105 95 100 100 129 121 133 366 601 801
Peace ODA 9 10 11 7 6 1 3 2 13 10
Other ODA 1,897 1,942 2,630 3,103 2,864 3,217 3,203 4,276 4,348 4,676
Total ODA 2,011 2,047 2,740 3,211 2,999 3,339 3,339 4,644 4,962 5,487
Humanitarian as % of total
5% 5% 4% 3% 4% 4% 4% 8% 12% 15%

Sources: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS) data.

Notes: Data is in constant 2018 prices.

The World Bank and ADB have mobilised substantial resources to support longer term needs in Cox’s Bazar. Since 2018, the World Bank has approved US$590 million in grants to assist the Government of Bangladesh to deal with the refugee influx under the International Development Association (IDA) Refugee Sub-Window (RSW). ADB made its first ever contribution to a refugee response, approving a US$100 million grant in 2018 as the first phase of a proposed US$200 million package. This fulfilled the government’s extraordinary request for grant assistance for the crisis response.[54]

Bilateral donors, the EU and global funds have provided targeted development assistance to Cox’s Bazar district since 2017, although tracking it accurately is difficult. The ISCG – the coordination body for the humanitarian community including non-governmental organisations part of the Rohingya refugee response – estimates that since August 2017 these actors have contributed at least US$454 million as support to host communities. An estimated US$280 million of this funding (over 70%) was outside of the JRP.[55] This does not include all development support in the district, for example it excludes national-level development programmes implemented in the district and softly earmarked contributions to international organisations that benefit both refugees and host communities. Aside from information on crisis-specific development contributions from the World Bank or ADB, or the ISCG’s estimations mentioned above, there is a lack of data on development assistance disaggregated subnationally. It is therefore difficult to quantify the total amount of development assistance benefiting the host communities and to map out development activities in Cox’s Bazar district – or even in the Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts, where the refugee camps are located. While the Aid Management System in Bangladesh can capture the location of projects down to the sub-district level, the commitments and disbursements are only provided as totals for each project and budgets are not disaggregated by location.


International funding for the Covid-19 response

Bangladesh received significant international financial support from MDBs and the IMF in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As of December 2020, MDBs and the IMF had approved a total of US$2.4 billion in funding to support the Bangladeshi government, of which US$2.0 billion has already been disbursed.[56] This includes significant support from the ADB, IMF and World Bank. The first loans by the World Bank and ADB targeted the health sector, followed up by additional loans shortly thereafter to mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. The credit provided by the IMF also intended to finance health and social protection measures and alleviate fiscal strain.

Grant funding to the Covid-19 response in 2020 seems equally balanced between development and humanitarian assistance. Since March 2020, a total of US$345 million in grants was provided to a range of actors in Bangladesh to support their Covid-19 response. This is US$186 million reported as humanitarian and US$159 million reported as development funding. Figure 5 shows the monthly grant contributions to the Covid-19 response alongside monthly data of new confirmed Covid-19 cases. It shows funding following a similar pattern as the two waves of the pandemic. Between March and May 2020 it seems that funding was ahead of the peak of new monthly cases; however, development funding during this time period is to be interpreted with caution as it may include annual tranches of funding to activities that only later in the year incorporated components to address the pandemic. Also, donors each choose their own approach on how to classify activities as related to Covid-19, which differ in the breadth of projects covered. However, funding for the humanitarian response to Covid-19 fell significantly short of requirements in 2020. Only a third of required funding was provided for the pandemic response both in Cox’s Bazar district and in the rest of the country by the end of the year, leaving a significant shortfall.[57]

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Figure 5: New confirmed Covid-19 cases by month and grant funding to the Covid- 19 response in Bangladesh, 2020

Figure 5: New confirmed Covid-19 cases by month and grant funding to the Covid- 19 response in Bangladesh, 2020
March April May June July August September October November December
New confirmed Covid-19 cases 51 7616 39486 98330 92178 75335 50483 44205 57248 48578
Humanitarian grants 11.6 12.8 8.3 37.2 15.8 5.4 11.1 17.1 61.9 5.0
Development grants 5.8 29.1 59.4 3.8 0.6 0.9 10.2 21.9 0.8 26.2
Total 17.4 42.0 67.7 40.9 16.5 6.3 21.4 39.0 62.7 31.2

Source: Development Initiatives based on data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University (downloaded 15 January 2021), UN OCHA FTS and International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data.

Notes: IATI data here consists of transaction data extracted from the Covid-19 tracking prototype[58] and was downloaded on 8 January 2021. Double-counting between IATI and FTS data was avoided where possible. Only disbursements are included from IATI data and both commitments and disbursements from UN OCHA FTS, given that not all committed flows on UN OCHA FTS are updated when disbursed. Data is in current prices.


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    Data on lives lost through storms since 2007 is sourced from the Emergency Events Database compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. Available at: (accessed 30 January 2021)

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