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  • Report
  • 1 April 2021

Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Bangladesh: Chapter 8

Organisational issues

chapter 8

There continues to be an institutional separation for several bilateral donors in Bangladesh between humanitarian and development assistance. Although the importance of an integrated response between humanitarian and development departments for individual donors is widely recognised and political will exists to facilitate it, operational guidance on how to achieve it is often lacking. Some bilateral donors therefore continue to support humanitarian and development assistance in parallel through different line ministries in the same location. Centralised development planning in Bangladesh also means that several development actors don’t have a subnational presence. It is more challenging for them to coordinate and complement the localised refugee response in Cox’s Bazar district. The government faces similar challenges for subnational development planning, although development actors support through capacity building of local governments.

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HDP cooperation within donor institutions

Many bilateral donors have an institutional separation between humanitarian and development assistance, which then usually translates into the same separation at country level. The separation into different ministries or departments makes it challenging for the development counterparts to build an understanding of humanitarian assistance and vice versa, and thereby harder to identify potential entry points for collaboration or complementarity. In Bangladesh the EU supports disaster preparedness and response from different angles with development assistance provided through the Department for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO)[1] and humanitarian assistance through ECHO. DEVCO supports the government in improving its social protection programmes and also works on climate-resilient agriculture initiatives. ECHO works with the government at the central and local levels to strengthen contingency planning. Both departments have a strategic collaboration and have held a nexus workshop in Bangladesh. Despite the high-level demand and in-country push to coordinate disaster preparedness and response through a shared framework, there is a lack of guidance on how to achieve this. The need for practical guidance on how to operationalise the nexus was identified in previous research on donors at the HDP nexus and seen as obstacle to an integrated response by donor key informants.[2] In the case of the EU, such guidance is available in the context of protracted displacement[3] but not yet on disaster preparedness and response to natural hazards.

For other donor governments with an even stronger separation between development and humanitarian assistance, there sometimes is limited communication between the responsible line ministries. Needs assessments, planning and funding are carried out independently from each other, even in the same subnational location (e.g. Cox’s Bazar district) in response to the same crisis. This is due to the clearly perceived division of labour, meaning that for instance the humanitarian side will only support assistance provided in refugee camps and the development counterpart will support the host communities in parallel. Interviewees from these donor agencies, however, see the response in Cox’s Bazar as a good example for the HDP nexus as the consequences from the same crisis are addressed from different angles in parallel and separately. Operating through separate systems and with separate objectives for development and humanitarian assistance is the minimum approach for achieving coherence and complementarity, as long as both sets of activities are mutually enforcing and don’t undermine each other. However, to be effective this requires regular communication, information sharing and careful monitoring between the respective donor departments, which needs to be strengthened and formalised systematically.

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Balance between centralised and subnational presence

The lack of a subnational presence makes it difficult for some development actors to coordinate or collaborate with the localised humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar district. Given the centralised nature of national development planning, development actors are naturally located in Dhaka and do not tend to have staff stationed subnationally. Many interviewed development donors lack a field presence in Cox’s Bazar district. Some development implementers have subnational field presence, but the decision power lies in Dhaka. For these development actors, it is difficult to plan or carry out complementary or collaborative development activities in Cox’s Bazar together with other actors operating in the region. Coordinating with the humanitarian actors’ programmes with refugee and host communities is even more challenging, given humanitarian coordination and planning takes place in Cox’s Bazar. The reverse also applies for humanitarian actors trying to build on development efforts in the district. Actors in Bangladesh have already started to address this disconnect. The ADB has strengthened its presence in Cox’s Bazar with designated personnel to coordinate its Rohingya refugee response. On the humanitarian side, UNHCR has created a senior development officer position based in Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, acting as policy liaison with the government and development actors. For actors without the ability to expand their presence due to limited resources or staffing, communication or partnership with actors closely involved in shaping the national and subnational response (e.g. the UNRCO, praised by several interviewees for its convening efforts) helps to overcome this coordination challenge. The pending DDGP in Cox’s Bazar district, once formulated successfully, has the potential to provide comprehensive guidance on gaps in the development response for actors based only in Dhaka.

The challenge to coordinate activities and communicate between Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar district also exists for the Government of Bangladesh. According to interviewees, the cooperation between officials in central and local governments can be difficult. This is less so on the humanitarian side, given the presence of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in the district coordinating the government authority for the refugee response. However, given the centralised nature of development planning and budgetary authority, it is challenging for the local government to address the context-specific development needs in the district. The DDGP (once fully formulated) is intended to address this, although the lack of experience in subnational development planning has been a challenge (see the ‘Coordination, prioritisation and planning’ section). To that end, a range of actors including UNDP, EU and JICA (see the ‘Partnerships’ section) provide capacity building to the local government in support of planning and administrative processes.


  • 1
    As of 1 January 2021, the Department for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) was renamed the Directorate-General for International Partnerships.
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