Between August and December 2017, about 724,000 Rohingya nationals crossed the border into Bangladesh in response to a major offensive against the Rohingya in Rakhine state of Myanmar. They joined about 169,000 registered and unregistered refugees who were already living in the registered and makeshift camps in Cox´s Bazar. By April 2019, the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar district had reached about 910,357 individuals, making Kutupalong and Nayapara registered camps and the makeshift camps around them the largest refugee settlements in the world.
The unexpected speed and extent of the influx in September 2017 exacerbated an already fragile situation, overwhelming infrastructures for health, education and WASH services and facilities. The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the humanitarian community stepped up, swiftly and efficiently, to meet the immediate food and non-food needs of the population.
Almost two years into the crisis, the situation has stabilized due to the assistance provided, the gradually increasing economic interactions between the refugees and the host community, as well as the Rohingya´s own level of resilience. Nonetheless, socio-economic challenges such as poverty, illiteracy and constrained livelihood opportunities continue to raise serious protection and food security concerns.
The Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) was conducted by UNHCR and WFP in line with the global Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to review areas of cooperation. The JAM aimed to provide strategic directions for joint programming for the period 2019 – 2021 to enhance Rohingya refugees’ capacities to meet their food and other basic needs, strengthen their livelihoods and increase their self-reliance, ensuring gender considerations are prioritized. The section below outlines key findings and recommendations.
Food security and assistance: As of March 2019, approximately 65 percent of refugees were receiving monthly food entitlements, in-kind, comprising of rice, lentils and oil while the remaining were provided with e-vouchers redeemed at WFP-contracted retail outlets where refugees are provided with 20 different food options. WFP continues to transition more in-kind beneficiaries to evoucher assistance. Though refugees receive the recommended minimum of 2,100 kcal/ person/ day, 44 percent of the refugees have poor or borderline food consumption scores. The rampant resale of food commodities by refugees to meet other essential needs contributes majorly to low food consumption outcomes. The plans to transition the refugee population into the e-voucher modality is expected to contribute to increased dietary diversity and create a local integrated market, where the host community produce is channelized into the e-voucher outlets. Despite the assistance provided by various partners, 54 percent of all the refugees are unable to meet the minimum essential needs otherwise referred to as the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB). The current assistance provided is critical in supporting households meet their minimum essential need, with almost 88 percent of refugees found to be entirely dependent on assistance provided. In regard to the available evidence, UNHCR and WFP agreed that blanket food assistance should be continued. Both organisations will explore development of joint targeting criteria to identify levels of vulnerability in refugees for effective targeting with complimentary assistance provided through different modalities: cash-for-work, life-skills training and unconditional cash transfer, where possible.
Cash-based Interventions: the implementation of and scope for cash-based interventions and specifically for multi-purpose cash remains limited due to the existing policies. An inter-agency common cash platform is to be considered in Cox´s Bazar, guided by the Joint four Principals’ statement (UNHCR, WFP, IOM and UNICEF) and coordinated with all other partners- for which Bangladesh was selected as the pilot for increasing inter-agency collaboration. UNHCR/ GoB refugee registration data will be used for beneficiary identification. Joint advocacy meetings will be conducted to push for the use of multipurpose cash. UNHCR and WFP, together with other partners also commit to undertake a multi-sectoral market assessment, advocate for the multi-purpose cash pilot, conduct joint monitoring exercises and explore opportunities for collaboration on provision of non-food items through the e-voucher shops.
Protection and Accountability: the refugees who arrived in Bangladesh are seeking refuge from the continued persecution and violence they experienced in Myanmar. In the camps they are faced with different stressors due to congested living conditions, disrupted family and community structures and an uncertain future. Yet refugees continue to show a remarkable resilience, they actively engage in the response and are keen to take on new responsibilities. In relation to food security, specific vulnerabilities exist for people with mobility constraints which are persistent hindrance to food access and thereby raise food security concerns. To ease burden of carrying heavy food loads, WFP has operationalized a porter system to support those extremely vulnerable refugees, including people with disability, child-headed and women-headed households among others. Measures will be developed to strengthen the system for identification while ensuring that the potential for abuse of the system is mitigated. Special considerations are made for unaccompanied and separated children who are supported through alternative care arrangements. Existing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will be updated for children at risk to ensure timely information sharing, referral of cases and increase awareness of handling such cases.
Both organisations are committed to enhance accountability, strengthen and expand existing mechanisms and foster stronger refugee engagement and leadership. Referral pathways and linkages between WFP and UNHCR Complaints and Feedback Mechanisms (CFM) will be reviewed and strengthened to ensure prompt response in addressing issues raised. The role of the existing food committees will be reviewed and strengthened. Protection risks (including PSEA) in food assistance outlets will be addressed by training traders and partners on the expected code of conduct when dealing beneficiaries and through a strengthened monitoring system.
Nutrition: In comparison to 2017, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence has shown a significant improvement, decreasing among the new arrivals from 19.3 percent in November 2017 to 11 percent in November 2018. However, more than one third of the children under 5 years in the registered camps and 27 percent in makeshift camps are chronically malnourished and 40 percent of children under 5 years are anaemic. Nutrition services are implemented in the registered camps through one partner, supported by UNHCR and WFP jointly in line with the global MoU; in the new camps WFP responded to the dramatic needs of new arrivals by implementing core nutrition services directly.
With the GAM rate remaining above 10 percent and considering the high stunting and anaemia rates, UNHCR and WFP agreed to continue the Blanket Supplementary Feeding Programme for children 6-59 months and pregnant and lactating women (PLW) and will review the situation twice a year. The implementation of nutrition programmes will be aligned to the global MoU across camps. Nutrition programme coverage and the promotion of appropriate infant and young child feeding activities will be strengthened through a joint social and behavioral change communication strategy (SBCC) and strengthening of community nutrition volunteer programme.
Livelihoods: programmes aiming at enhancing self-reliance are successfully implemented by UNHCR and WFP for a range of different skills, targeting refugees and host communities alike. Yet the expansion of these activities in the camps is challenging given the high demand, limited opportunities, lack of linkages to markets and the existing legal framework. UNHCR and WFP will continue to jointly advocate to increase refugees’ engagement in income generation, livelihoods and self-reliance activities. A joint value chain analysis is planned as well as a market assessment to understand supply and demand constraints for products promoted. Specific programmes to increase women’s participation will be developed, including communication strategies and alternative child care arrangements. Vocational training programmes for youth will be jointly reviewed and areas for complementarity will be explored.
WASH/ Health: the overall provision of health and WASH services improved significantly since the onset of the crisis. As a result of overall improved service provision, mortality rates dropped below emergency levels and are within the SPHERE standards for the region. Water provision is sufficient in Kutapalong but remains below 15 litres/person/day in Nayapara registered camp. While the water collected is generally free of germs, contamination of drinking water occurs frequently at household level due to improper water handling. High diarrhoea incidence remains a concern, repeated diarrhoea episodes contributes directly to high GAM rates. Both organisations agreed to strengthen the coordination between the WASH, Nutrition and Food Security units with the aim to strengthen the linkage for joint analyses and knowledge management for an integrated response. Linkages between health and nutrition facilities will be strengthened to ensure cross-referrals, facilities will be hosted in the same compound where possible. Access to and safe use of WASH infrastructures for especially women, girls and persons with disabilities will be enhanced to minimize the hygiene and health concerns. Integrated efforts need to be undertaken to strengthen WASH education among the refugee population to minimize secondary contamination of drinking water at the household.
Energy: with the setup of the camps, about 6,000 hectares of forest cover was cleared. In the initial response cooking fuel could not be provided, leading to further deforestation, increased tensions with the host community and protection risks associated with firewood collection. The provision of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) started in August 2018 and reached the majority of households in the camps by now and expanded to host communities as well. Both organisations will advocate jointly for continued provision of the LPG intervention for the refugees and host community and UNHCR will continue to prioritise LPG distribution. The usage of a unified distribution modality will be explored as well.
Data sharing and system interoperability: UNHCR is presently registering refugees to validate and expand the existing database, as at June 2019, about 400,000 refugees had been registered. WFP enrols refugees using SCOPE to enable the timely provision and tracking of assistance. Both organisations agreed that the GoBs/UNHCRs registration database will be used in future as the single source of data for beneficiary enrolment and targeting purposes. Data sharing and system interoperability between UNHCR´s beneficiary registration database (proGress) and WFP´s assistance enrolment system (SCOPE) will be established to ensure a complete match of beneficiary data between the two systems. WFP will establish help desks at the registration sites (or a referral system where space does not allow) to identify household requiring an update on SCOPE after registration.
Coordination between the two agencies will be enhanced by creating more opportunities for systematic information exchange between key units of each agency for informed decision-making. Joint advocacy on the importance of addressing food security and protection in a combined fashion will be enhanced through joint messaging. Joint monitoring will be maximised in areas of cooperation.