The State of the Humanitarian System 2022 launch in Dhaka: localisation and the future of the Rohingya population

10 July 2023

Md. Mujibul Haque Munir, Joint Director, COAST Foundation

On 20 May 2023 the COAST Foundation hosted ALNAP at an event to discuss the findings of the State of the Humanitarian System 2022 with the humanitarian community in Dhaka. Moderated by Rezaul Karim Chowdhury from COAST and with a keynote presentation by Jennifer Doherty of ANLAP, the session focused on the report's key findings and their implications for humanitarian action, particularly in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya crisis has posed significant challenges to the humanitarian system.

The event brought together participants from diverse backgrounds and organisations involved in areas of Bangladesh that are vulnerable to crises, with strong representation from local and national NGOs as well as UN agencies and international NGOs (see table, below). Bangladesh is divided into eight administrative divisions, and it is noteworthy that representatives from all eight were present. All the participants held leadership positions within the BDCSO Process, a network that encompasses approximately 700 NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) in Bangladesh. These divisional leaders effectively represent the members of CSOs and NGOs from the districts within their respective divisions.

One of the most important topics discussed was the future of the Rohingya population. There were different perspectives from NGOs and the Bangladesh government. Mohammed Mizanur Rahman - Director General of the Department of Disaster Management, which plays a crucial role in building resilience, reducing disaster risks, and protecting lives and livelihoods in Bangladesh - emphasised the importance of addressing social tension between Rohingya communities and host communities, and highlighted the challenges posed by demographic imbalance and depleting water levels. Repatriation was considered the primary option by the government, and collaboration with NGOs and INGOs through short-term and long-term policies was deemed crucial. Gwyn Lewis, the UN Resident Coordinator, expressed concerns about the funding crisis in the Rohingya response and emphasized the need for more efficient and cost-effective approaches. She highlighted the importance of advocating for the rights and livelihoods of the Rohingya community. Gowar Naeem Wahra from Disaster Forum expressed regret over the lack of a long-term strategy for the Rohingya crisis and highlighted the challenges posed by flawed systems and limited local capacity. This will continue to be a core issue for the humanitarian community in the coming months.

The panel of special guests and guest speakers

Localisation was another recurring topic. Rezaul Karim Chowdhury from COAST emphasised the success of Bangladesh in combating COVID-19 in the camps through effective government initiatives and the involvement of local staff and volunteers. He stressed the importance of granting decision-making authority and providing necessary facilities to local staff, as well as entrusting leadership to local and national NGOs. Simon Lever from the British High Commission emphasised the importance of open discussions and dialogue regarding localisation efforts, making the point that it is crucial to ensure that the right people receive the right support at the right time. Gowar Naeem Wahra from Disaster Forum emphasized the need for transparency, acknowledging the role of local responders, and promoting local sourcing of essential resources. Nusrat Gazali, Deputy Chief Mission of IoM Bangladesh, stressed the importance of consolidating the efforts of government organisations, NGOs and UN agencies for effective humanitarian responses. She mentioned the significance of documenting good practices and leveraging local expertise to improve crisis management and ensure context-specific interventions. Sajid Rahman from Start Fund Bangladesh highlighted the challenge of resource concentration and emphasized the importance of equitable fund distribution and empowering local organisations.

Jennifer Doherty from ALNAP highlighted the escalating global challenges of conflicts, disasters and displacement, all of which were worsened by the pandemic. She emphasised the need for increased humanitarian aid due to rising displacement, food insecurity, and funding gaps. Jennifer also discussed the findings of a mobile survey in Bangladesh, which showed the significant role played by the government in supporting crisis-affected people. However, challenges were also identified, such as corruption and questions over whether aid was going to the right people. Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Director General of the Department of Disaster Management, praised Bangladesh's progress in disaster management but stressed the need to strengthen capabilities in addressing earthquakes and landslides.

The event organized by COAST on the report provided valuable insights and discussions for the humanitarian community in Bangladesh. COAST and its participants have identified several key areas of focus and potential changes to ensure the effectiveness of aid. They emphasized the need for a comprehensive and long-term strategy to address the Rohingya crisis, taking into account social tension, demographic imbalance, and depleting water levels. COAST will continue advocating for the localization of aid, granting decision-making authority to local staff, and empowering local and national NGOs. They will also work towards promoting collaboration among government organizations, NGOs, and UN agencies, while advocating for more efficient funding mechanisms and equitable resource distribution. Furthermore, COAST aims to document good practices, leverage local expertise, and strengthen disaster management capabilities to enhance crisis management in Bangladesh. Through these efforts, COAST strives to improve the humanitarian system and ensure effective and context-specific interventions for those in need.