The burning question: How can we balance emergency and development activities to reduce further harm and uphold humanitarian principles for all?

Project: Learning ProjectTalent Development 1st February 2018

The ongoing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has produced huge numbers of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar since 25 August 2017. This has led to one of the fastest growing emergency crises of recent years.

Government and non-government actors are providing immense support to this large scale emergency crisis. Currently 90 non-government organizations are delivering 192 programmes and the total budget approved so far is approximately 465 million Taka (source UNO Ukhia). The crisis has received a lot of attention from humanitarian organisations and the Government of Bangladesh has also significantly contributed to relief operations by giving shelter to a huge number of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar.

Some highlights after receiving feedback from relevant stakeholders in Cox’s Bazar:

-Excess of food and nonfood relief items have forced Rohingya to sell surplus items in local markets. This has created access to cash which some are using to illegally purchase mobile SIM cards, which might lead to crime and increase safety and security risks.

-Excess of food and nonfood relief items distributed to Rohingya have created disorder amongst the poor host community who are fighting for minimum food and other amenities.

-This disorder is increasing as the host community is no longer engaging in emergency response activities and daily labour, as preference has been given to the Rohingya community. On top of that there is a fear amongst the host community that in future the daily wage might be reduced due to oversupply of labour in Cox’s Bazar.

-Unplanned WASH interventions may increase the threat of local communities losing access to water. For example, the government has approved approximately 500 tube wells for the entire Ukhia district, whereas 15,000 tube wells have already been installed for the Rohingya in the Ukhiya camps. This has created huge pressure on ground water level and as a result there is a risk of contamination with saline water.

-Faulty installation of latrines has created a risk of contaminated ground water with human waste which can pose a health threat to people living in the vicinity

-Cutting down trees in the hilly areas increases the likelihood of landslides in the rainy reason

A combination of the above factors may negatively impact relations between the Rohingya and host community. A loss in support and affection from the host community might create extra pressure for government from a security point of view.

Now the burning question is: How can we balance supporting the Rohingya emergency response with existing development initiatives for the host community? Here are some potential strategies for organisations implementing programmes in the area to consider:

-Include capacity building as part of development activities for the host community

-Ask donors to continue funding development programmes in Cox’s Bazar

-Develop strategies that balance activities for Rohingya and the host community

-Build capacity of NGO front line and managerial staff in humanitarian programming

-Learning platform/network facilitating evidence based advocacy for effective policies in emergencies, e.g. social integration, balanced labour, cash distribution and monitoring policy etc.

-Enhance UN and NGO collaboration with the government, so that the government can provide effective support

The Rohingya influx and repatriation process requires support from actors at the regional and global levels. Humanitarian actors should also consider how this issue can feed into debates and research around localisation and result in appropriate collective actions.


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