Bangladesh: Local Aid Groups Getting Left Behind
Local aid groups and volunteers were the first to respond last August as a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. Today, however, locals are dwarfed by dozens of international aid agencies – who dominate donor funding and the response itself.
Prominent Bangladeshi NGOs say they lack the resources that could sustain and grow local aid expertise, their staff are often poached by big international aid groups, and they’ve been excluded from decision-making in an emergency unfolding on their own soil.
However, as the Rohingya refugee crisis moves into its second year, local aid groups believe that international attention – and donor funding – will wane, and that the plethora of international organisations and staff that now dominate the response will inevitably shrink.
“In the course of time, some day, there will be no aid, or reduced aid,” said Rezaul Chowdhury, the head of COAST, an NGO from Cox’s Bazar that has spearheaded efforts to even out a donor system it sees as lopsided in favour of the larger, international players.
“The Rohingya will [still] be there. So why don’t we take the responsibility for Rohingya from now on?”
Nearly 100 NGOs and UN agencies now operate in the camps – more than two thirds of them are international groups, such as the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, or its migration arm, IOM, the two lead aid agencies for the Rohingya response.
Local aid officials here speak of a power imbalance in relationships with their international counterparts.
Sultan Mahmud, who leads Gonoshasthaya Kendra’s Rohingya programmes, says his group’s destroyed health clinic is a prime example.
UNHCR is happy to help, in principle, but it wants Gonoshasthaya Kendra to also expand the clinic’s services. Mahmud says his staff may not have the resources to do this, and the most immediate concern is maintaining the clinic so that it at least stays open.
“They say there is partnership, but it is not equal partnership,” Mahmud said.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid funds have been pledged to help the refugees. But local aid organisations like Gonoshasthaya Kendra see only a trickle of this funding, which is largely filtered from international donors down through UN agencies and big international NGOs.
Bangladeshi organisations have valuable local knowledge, but this imbalanced relationship has limited their contributions, says Smruti Patel, co-founder of the Global Mentoring Initiative, an organisation that studies the role local organisations play in humanitarian crises.
She described the partnership between international and local NGOs as a “subcontracting” relationship – a characterisation commonly voiced by both Bangladeshi and foreign aid workers here.
“[Local NGOs’] value is that they have access to communities, they are really connected, they know what the issues are,” she said. “But we don’t value that.”
This is an excerpt from an in-depth report on IRIN News. To read the full article, go here.
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