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  • Report
  • 1 April 2021

Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Bangladesh: Chapter 4


chapter 4

This section investigates how development actors in Bangladesh worked with the government and with CSOs to support livelihoods, recovery and longer term development in crises. The Government of Bangladesh has received the largest share of ODA for development activities in Bangladesh in recent years, largely in the form of concessional loans from MDBs and Japan. Local and national NGOs have received a much smaller share of international assistance directly, and transparency is lacking on volumes received indirectly, although efforts are ongoing to rectify this. Bilateral development donors support the government on disaster management in different ways, through strategic alignment, technical assistance or direct funding. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief implements the centrally set policy on disaster management through its field offices and in partnership with NGOs and UN agencies. Local and national NGOs have long-standing experience in building community resilience and reducing disaster risk in Bangladesh, but directly accessing ODA for development activities remains challenging. With regards to the refugee crisis response in Cox’s Bazar district, MDBs have widened the response to address some development needs, even though the government still broadly opposes longer term policy changes that are perceived to disincentivise repatriation. MDBs have facilitated closer cooperation between the government and humanitarian agencies by channelling funding through the former to the latter. Some bilateral development donors and UN agencies have deepened their partnerships with the local government in Cox’s Bazar district in response to the influx of Rohingya refugees. The engagement of international actors with local and national NGOs in the district is mostly framed in humanitarian terms, with little funding available for development needs and scope to expand knowledge exchanges. Finally, the private sector in the district requires greater support from both development donors and implementers.

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Partnerships with government

The Government of Bangladesh has received the largest share of ODA for development activities in Bangladesh in recent years, driven by large volumes of concessional loans from MDBs and Japan. The proportion of ODA (excluding humanitarian assistance) delivered through domestic public sector institutions has almost doubled from 41% in 2010 to 78% in 2019 (Figure 7). Over 96% of this funding in 2019 was in the form of loans, mostly provided by the World Bank’s IDA, Japan and the ADB. The share of humanitarian ODA received by the Government of Bangladesh is lower and has decreased following the surge in humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya refugee response (Figure 4), down from 57% in 2016 to 17% in 2019 (Figure 7). Almost all of this humanitarian ODA to the domestic public sector in recent years was provided by the IDA and mostly targets disaster preparedness and response for natural hazards, with some disbursements for the Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project first recorded in 2019.

Figure 7: ODA to domestic public sector institutions in Bangladesh, 2010–2019

Figure 7: ODA to domestic public sector institutions in Bangladesh, 2010–2019

Bar chart showing ODA to domestic public sector institutions in Bangladesh, 2010–2019

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

Notes: Classifications for the channels of delivery are aggregated from those reported to the OECD DAC CRS. Data includes all ODA from OECD DAC members and from multilateral organisations that report their core expenditure to the OECD DAC CRS. Data is in constant 2018 prices.

Partnerships with the government on disaster management

The ways bilateral development donors work with the government on disaster management range from strategic alignment to capacity building and direct funding. All of the bilateral donors interviewed recognise the need to work with the government to achieve lasting progress on disaster management but approach this collaboration in different ways. For instance, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is restricted by internal limitations in providing funding directly to the government and local and national NGOs, but it ensures their programmes on DRR are overseen by the government in close partnership. Similar limitations apply to the European Commission’s Department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), which holds the responsibility within the EU for providing assistance for disaster preparedness but is unable to directly fund the government. Support is instead provided by seconding staff to relevant line ministries and by providing technical assistance. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has three modalities for development assistance that involve the government to varying degrees. Grant assistance is managed and controlled by JICA and handed over to the government once fully implemented. Technical support is provided to the government in the form of consultants hired and managed by JICA. Finally, concessional loans are provided directly to the government, which is then in charge of implementation with support from JICA. This allows JICA to select a modality with the appropriate level of government engagement depending on the development needs and project requirements. As noted by a donor interviewee, sustainable development requires an effectively functioning public sector and therefore finding ways to work with the government through direct support or advocacy efforts is indispensable to achieve it.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief centrally sets the disaster preparedness policy, which is locally implemented by its field offices together with support from UN agencies and NGOs. The policies set by the ministry’s central office largely focus on long-term preparedness and risk reduction. Target locations are selected based on geographic indicators of vulnerability to natural hazards. In terms of assistance directly provided to affected people, the ministry’s field offices decide who will receive support and in which form. The field offices are also the first responders to any disaster, using a pool of volunteers that assist with disaster management by, for example, facilitating evacuations. They work in close partnership with local and national NGOs and UN agencies on programme design and implementation. For instance, UNDP assists the central ministry with developing national disaster management plans and provides assistance for prevention and recovery through its DRR facility, which involves the government in the decision-making process.

Partnerships with the government on the Rohingya refugee response

The World Bank and ADB is gradually shifting the emphasis towards longer term needs within the refugee response through their long-standing partnership with the government. Both institutions have supported the Government of Bangladesh through sizable financial contributions and technical assistance for decades. The resulting trust, combined with leverage due to large national funding portfolios and the ability to mobilise substantial resources, has placed MDBs in a unique position to influence the government’s approach to the refugee response. As outlined above, the Government of Bangladesh maintains its focus on repatriation and has opposed longer term policy changes for refugees that could reduce their reliance on humanitarian assistance. It has, however, shown its openness for dialogue when presented with longer term solutions that could be replicated in other parts of the country, such as infrastructure initiatives in the camps supported by the ADB. The government has so far received US$690 million in grants from MDBs for longer term needs in Cox’s Bazar district (see the ‘International financing landscape’ sub-section) and provides co-financing for some activities. These funds provide support to a range of sectors, including water and sanitation, health, social assistance, infrastructure and DRR. The government has also signalled openness to receive loans for infrastructure projects in the district, despite its reluctance so far to accept loans for the refugee response. Beyond substantial financial contributions, the technical assistance provided by the World Bank and ADB as an integral part of their support to the government ensures long-term viability and increases buy-in from the national authorities. Interviewees from humanitarian agencies operating in the camps welcome the socioeconomic lens through which MDBs approach the refugee crisis as it complements the protection-focused approach of humanitarian actors. They also note that MDBs are best placed to work towards the integration of assistance to host and refugee communities into national social protection systems, given they already work with the government on these systems nationally.

The MDB’s way of operating and funding has incentivised closer cooperation between government ministries and humanitarian implementers in the camps. The WFP, for instance, engages on projects that provide assistance to Rohingya refugees that were originally funded by the World Bank and the ADB. The ADB coordinated with the WFP to set up 10 food distribution centres in the camps. It also actively participated in meetings facilitated through the ISCG site management sector with the local government and humanitarian agencies to discuss the construction of emergency access roads.[1] The World Bank allocated funding to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, which in turn is using the WFP as third-party executing agency to implement cash-for-work and conditional cash-transfer activities in the camps.[2] Given that the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief also received large volumes of funding for the provision of public services in the district under the same project, it is actively leading on it – much more so than on other parts of the refugee response in the district where humanitarian agencies usually take the lead with government oversight. The MDB’s way of providing funding directly to the government, which then might choose to channel it through contractors or humanitarian agencies, therefore fostered close cooperation between these stakeholders, at least under the respective projects. Even though interviewees from humanitarian agencies noted that the bureaucratic process to establish a funding partnership with an MDB takes more time than with other donors, these partnerships are greatly valued once in place due to their longevity and the substantial funding resulting from them. Partnership models between MDBs, the government and humanitarian UN agencies should therefore be built on and replicated where appropriate and while safeguarding humanitarian principles.

In response to the localised Rohingya refugee crisis, some bilateral development donors and UN agencies have deepened their partnerships with the local government in Cox’s Bazar district. The UN in Bangladesh, with technical leadership from UNDP, and the World Bank have worked closely with the District Deputy Commissioner’s office to conceptualise the DDGP (see the ‘Coordination of development support to Cox’s Bazar district’ sub-section) and UNDP further supports union-level planning. JICA provides technical support to local governments in Bangladesh for the development of sub-district five-year development plans, including on DRR (Box 2). This covers two sub-districts in the Cox’s Bazar district, Teknaf and Ukhiya, increasing allocation to the them following the Rohingya Refugee influx. However, efforts from these development actors target different levels of local government in Cox’s Bazar district, and it is unclear to what extent they complement each other. Greater coherence of those activities through, for example, the DDGP (once fully formulated and operational) or ad hoc coordination would benefit the evolution of local government capacity from operational to planning entities.

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Box 2

JICA’s capacity building efforts for sub-districts

The Government of Bangladesh has worked over the last decade to decentralise its highly centralised public administrative system by strengthening local governments, in line with the responsibilities of local governments outlined in its constitution.. In light of these efforts, JICA agreed with the government in December 2015 to launch the Upazila Governance and Development Project,[3] financed by a loan provided to the government. This five-year project set out to promote the decentralisation efforts by financing tailored infrastructure development in a number of sub-districts and implement capacity-building measures with local government officials to improve public service delivery. Building on this project, the Government of Bangladesh requested additional support in the form of technical cooperation that would enable sub-districts to formulate and implement their own five-year development plans, broken down into separate annual plans. JICA responded to this with the Upazila Integrated Capacity Development Project in July 2017.[4] The purpose of this project was to establish a framework for development planning at the sub-district level including model development plans, guidelines, monitoring systems and training facilities to convey this knowledge. The two sub-districts most affected by the Rohingya refugee influx (Teknaf and Ukhiya) were among the 10 sub-districts selected to pilot these five-year plans. In reaction to the refugee influx, the budgetary allocation for these two sub-districts was increased, demonstrating JICA’s responsiveness to the changing crisis context.

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Partnerships with civil society

National NGOs in Bangladesh receive a small share of ODA for development activities from bilateral donors and multilateral core expenditure, while transparency on the received volume of sub-grants is lacking. From this group of international donors, national NGOs received between 3% and 5% of ODA (excluding humanitarian assistance) over the last five years with available data (Figure 8). This is lower than during the previous five years when that share ranged from 7% to 10%. Most of this funding was provided to the education and health sectors, with the UK, Global Fund and Australia as the largest donors. For humanitarian ODA, the proportion of funding provided directly to national NGOs is even lower at between 0.1% and 0.7% from 2015 to 2019. However, previous research on international humanitarian funding in Bangladesh showed that, while there is little direct funding to local and national NGOs, 11% of the total reached them indirectly in 2015.[5] Given this was before the Rohingya refugee response, for which international actors playing a large role and have attracted most direct funding, it is unclear whether these percentages still apply. It is also unclear to what extent they are transferable to international development funding, although our key informant interviews indicate that a number of development and multi-mandate implementers routinely provide sub-grants to local and national organisations. This, however, points to a data gap in tracking international financial support from international development donors and implementers to local and national NGOs.[6] Greater transparency is needed on indirect funding to local and national NGOs through international intermediary organisations. This could be achieved through improved reporting according to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)[7] or by expanding the Aid Management System to include this data, for example. The Localisation Technical Working Group in Bangladesh carries out its own financial tracking process to produce evidence on the volumes of funding received by local and national NGOs, alongside its other activities around promoting the localisation agenda.[8] It should be noted that Bangladeshi NGOs don’t have to rely on international financing because they also draw on funding from the government, national foundations, private donations and by generating income through microfinance or social enterprises. BRAC, for instance, implements disaster management and response activities through its emergency funding mechanism and generates 63% of its revenue through its microfinance programme.[9]

Figure 8: ODA to national NGOs in Bangladesh, 2010–2019

Figure 8: ODA to national NGOs in Bangladesh, 2010–2019

Bar chart showing ODA to national NGOs in Bangladesh, 2010–2019.

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

Notes: Data for national NGOs includes ODA channelled through the OECD DAC CRS organisation type ‘Developing country-based NGOs’ and funding to NGOs that were classified as ‘international NGOs’ but could be identified to be headquartered in Bangladesh (e.g. BRAC). Data includes all ODA from OECD DAC members and from multilateral organisations that report their core expenditure to the OECD DAC CRS. Data is in constant 2018 prices.

Partnerships with national NGOs on disaster management

Local and national NGOs have built resilience against natural hazards and reduced disaster risk in Bangladesh alongside the government for decades, although their access to development finance is limited. In its seminal report State of Humanitarian Actions in Bangladesh 2019,[10] the National Alliance of Humanitarian Actors Bangladesh (NAHAB) summarises the measures supporting long-term disaster management that have been pursued by civil society and the government since the country’s independence in 1971. Particular progress was made on community-based DRR, for instance through the training and capacity building of large numbers of volunteers through the Cyclone Preparedness Programme. The focus on disaster and climate-resilient development in the government’s seventh five-year plan (see the ‘Policy and strategy’ section) is equally recognised and put into action by local and national NGOs. They adopt a long-term approach and consider themselves development organisations that supplement the work of the government at the subnational level, while also responding to disasters when they occur. They participate in a continuum of activities across the nexus that includes disaster preparedness and mitigation, emergency response and recovery. International development implementers interviewed recognise that partnering with local and national NGOs is essential to gain from local knowledge on needs, context and social dynamics in communities. Progress has been made on the humanitarian side in terms of localising disaster preparedness and response. The HCTT now includes representatives from three national organisations, including NAHAB. Enhancing local and national institutional capacities and increasing focus on local engagement are key components of the HCTT’s workplan for 2021.[11] Lessons from the response to cyclone Amphan in 2020 find that local organisations effectively participated in the joint needs assessments.[12] On the development side, however, an international policy agenda similar to the humanitarian localisation commitment under the Grand Bargain is lacking. Interviewees from local and national NGOs stated that the due diligence processes for development finance are extremely challenging for local organisations, given they vary by donor. One possible solution called for by interviewees is the creation of a pooled funding mechanism for local and national NGOs that funds longer term development activities in crises, alongside ongoing technical support. It could build on learnings from the Start Fund Bangladesh, which so far focuses on emergency responses only.

Partnerships with civil society on longer term needs in Cox’s Bazar district

International engagement with national NGOs on the Rohingya refugee response has primarily been framed in humanitarian terms, with less emphasis on longer term needs. Given their number and longstanding engagement across humanitarian and development needs in Bangladesh, NGOs have been an important part of the refugee response from the start. A standout example of a national NGO is BRAC’s role, given its scale of operations BRAC works in all refugee camps and manages 11 directly, and provides emergency support across multiple sectors and longer term assistance in the form of skills development and agricultural support. Interviewees however also highlighted the need to engage with local NGOs in Cox’s Bazar district and in other parts of the country for disaster response alongside large, national NGOs. Local NGOs also tend to support the local population across a range of short and long terms needs. They are distinct in their potential role to support nexus approaches in that they can quickly adapt to changes in the subnational context caused by crises, as they don’t face the need to standardise their operations nationally, and often have close ties with, and thereby are accountable to, the local population. Interviewees from several local and national NGOs were clear on the extremely sensitive nature of longer term support to refugees in the camps, given existing government regulations on which forms of support are admissible (see the ‘Rohingya refugee response policy and strategy’ sub-section). This is a greater challenge for local and national NGOs than for international actors given that for many their survival relies on a healthy relationship with the government – all international funding they receive requires approval from the NGO affairs bureau. The Cox’s Bazar CSO−NGO Forum (CCNF) – established in 2017 to coordinate local and national NGO’s activities in the district – advocates for a stronger role of local organisations in relief and development. It recognises the need for international organisations to respond in the district given the scale of the crisis, but it proposes to implement systems for knowledge and skills exchanges between international and national responders. As designated humanitarian funding to facilitate this is scarce, and given the longer term benefits of capacity convergence, development funding could fill the gap to support this process. CCNF also reported that local and national NGOs are very rarely involved in the programme design of development activities in the district and usually implement as directed by international partners. Thereby an opportunity is missed to include knowledge of the local context when designing interventions. Another local and national NGO interviewee pointed out that the funding international donors provide for their activities in the district tends to focus on short-term needs. This is often in the form of humanitarian assistance to address immediate needs of refugee and host communities or as support for the Covid-19 response to address needs in the health and water, sanitation and hygiene sectors. Long-term challenges, therefore, don’t receive sufficient international attention, such as housing for refugees, education or expanding livelihoods. Funding to scale up a longer term response by local and national NGOs from international donors is not readily available and could be increased to support longer term, localised assistance.

Engagement of development donors and implementers with the domestic private sector has been neglected in Cox’s Bazar district, but donor support was scaled up nationally in response to the pandemic. The refugee influx impacted the district economy in different ways. According to the Cox’s Bazar District Chamber of Commerce, locals that depended on income from the forests surrounding the camps are now unable to access them and therefore out of work. Some international organisations brought in vendors from outside Cox’s Bazar to supply goods in support of different aspects of the humanitarian response, generating pressure on local businesses. Some local businesses provide goods to the refugee response, but for others the bureaucratic procedures around tender processes are an obstacle. The tourism sector in Cox’s Bazar district has also suffered first from uncertainty around the refugee influx and in 2020 from Covid-19. The pandemic forced tourism activities to shut down for months, leaving people depending on these businesses without income and unable to repay their loans. The domestic banks are not usually open to providing bridge loans for small businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce does not have any contingency funds itself to draw on. There is hence a gap in the support provided by international development donors to sustain the private sector in Cox’s Bazar district through business emergency loan facilities, human development or new employment opportunities. At the national level, several development donors announced support to various sectors of the economy in response to the impacts of the pandemic (see the ‘International financing landscape’ sub-section). However, the private sector in Cox’s Bazar faces a double burden and therefore requires targeted development solutions.