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.


Like what we posted, or think we missed something? We would love for you to leave your feedback with a comment!






  • Mark Veaneay Desouza

    Well , this a pretty good piece of information on the Rohingya Crisis and how it has been or is being managed. And I quite agree with what Mr. Rezaul Chowdhury, the head of COAST has to say, but I also differ on one thing- that the existing system of funding and work is lopsided and that locals are being left behind.
    I was personally on the ground for more than six months and worked and walked around the area, was part of many meetings. It is true that the Locals have good skills and can do a lot but being a good Steward to the Resources is very important.
    I know of some International agencies who set their foot on the ground and were befriended by a few locals who basically too them for a ride and exploited them the most of time, resources and much more.
    So, it’s not just what the locals can do or are capable of doing it also matter a lot how transparent and honest the locals are. Also there is a need of proper planning by the INGO’s , just distributing NFI kits and other stuff or constructing clinics etc should not be the main activity. One needs to think beyond , as Mr. Rezaul has mentioned that the Refugees will continue to stay on beyond so why not try engage them in some Socio -Economic activity and livelihood activity. That would not only give them an opportunity to use their skills , but also give them a change to earn small living and also be part of the economic development of the country. This just thinking aloud, there is much more that can be done instead of just saying that we are left out and so on.

    10/10/2018 at 1:58 pm
  • Some Manager in one of the Intl. Humanitarian Aid Agencies

    This is largely true, but for serious reasons. There is a lack of basic competencies and low productivity among the local partners. If you corroborate this with the widespread corruption and extensive control of the politics over the country through the military and police you can see why we can’t trust the local partners, particularly due to the year-round election campaign that needs quick funding. Previous experiences speak for themselves. 

     Even hiring locals has proved to be a major challenge, especially when they are being paid at western standards. The culture of nepotism and inside deals will hamper any process up to a point where we discuss about internal sabotage and planned failure in order to force a particular vendor or beneficiary. The power of government is highly unbalanced and abused in multiple way for personal and party interest. Any local in a high level position will be eventually forced into cooperating in shamelessly skimming as much as possible of the available funds. 

    We are accountable, yet we care…

    12/10/2018 at 3:43 am

Post a Comment