Socioeconomic analysis of refugees in Bangladesh

A short-term socioeconomic study conducted in 2021 will provide evidence for a medium-term policy response to the Rohingya crisis in Cox’s Bazar.

13 Jul, 2023

Overall objectives

The objective of this activity is to inform the medium-term policy response to the Rohingya crisis and the development of Cox’s Bazar through data and evidence. This is expected to be achieved by working with multiple stakeholders including the Government of Bangladesh, the World Food Program (WFP), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, national academics and think tanks, large non-governmental organizations, as well as World Bank teams and Country Management Units. The program is designed to deliver the information to monitor key welfare indicators regularly and to use it in program and project design. It also aims to activate the use of short-term data from ongoing large-scale project interventions in Cox’s Bazar to determine what works in this context.

Activity description

To catalyze this multi-pronged approach, the analytical program to inform the Rohingya response aims to:

(i) Build a locally-owned data and research platform that can track key welfare indicators for Rohingya displaced and hosts in the medium and long term, coordinate and assess data needs, and identify critical areas for policy action. This platform will be designed to be led by local researchers and stakeholders, through the creation of a Cox’s Bazar Humanitarian Development Statistics Center.

(ii) Initiate a locally-driven evidence-based policy dialogue on refugee focused policies and interventions. This will be done through fostering the creation of a national research network, the Bangladesh Refugee Research Network, that will bring together practitioners and researchers to generate actionable evidence to inform the response and actively feed this evidence into the policy dialogue.

The resulting data center and research networks are part of an overall data and evidence ecosystem to inform the response to the Rohingya crisis in Cox’s Bazar. This ecosystem also aims to: (a) activate the use of rapid learning from interventions to build evidence on what can work in this context; and (b) identify existing and new data that will be required for an economic growth diagnostic, which will support the identification of opportunities and program interventions for the poor hosting communities of Cox’s Bazar District.

As listed in the Concept Note, JDC-supported activities therefore include:

  • Activity 1.1: Initiate a locally driven and evidence-based policy dialogue (Cox’s Bazar Humanitarian Development Research Network)
  • Activity 1.2: Build a locally-owned data platform: The Cox’s Bazar Humanitarian Development Statistics Center
  • Activity 1.4: Monitoring economic and non-economic welfare for refugees and host communities, and targeted analysis to inform the future dialogue with GoB
  • Activity 2.1: Analytical partnerships with WFP, UNHCR and IOM

The planned series of activities as originally conceived have been affected by COVID-related restrictions on travel and in person interactions, which continues to be a source of uncertainty in implementation progress.

Engagement with partners

It is envisaged that the activity will be undertaken in collaboration with different Global Practices within the World Bank and leverage partnerships with a range of humanitarian agencies. Some specific collaborations have already been identified, including working with Finance Competitiveness and Innovation (FCI) on the Cox’s Bazar inclusive growth diagnostic; with the WFP on the learning and data sharing agenda (with positive dialogue with IOM and UNHCR initiated); and with the Development Economics Group Practice (DEC) on methodological and technical issues related to well-being monitoring.

Background and Context

Since August 2017, more than 725,000 people, mostly Rohingya, have crossed into the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh from Myanmar, joining around 300,000 people displaced from Myanmar in previous years. This influx required urgent humanitarian services and strained already resource constrained service delivery systems. It needed rapid service-responses for water and sanitation, health and education; necessitated immediate health services for survivors of violence and outreach on gender-based violence; and posed an unprecedented pressure on the area’s natural resources in a geography that is already amongst the most susceptible to natural calamities like cyclones and floods.

In response to the urgent need for data to support action at the time of a humanitarian crisis, the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice initiated two activities in 2017: (i) Short term monitoring of the economic welfare of Rohingya refugees and their and hosts, in partnership with WFP; and (ii) Setting up an evidence-base to systematically measure medium and long-term welfare of refugees, and of hosts who may be affected by this large refugee influx. These early activities will serve as important inputs into generating an evidence base that can inform the policy dialogue and action.

Many partners are engaged in responding to the continuing crisis in Cox’s Bazar. Given the duration of the crisis and its uncertain time horizon, the World Bank has recently initiated engagements on a strategic policy dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh to address the medium-term socioeconomic dimensions of this crisis. The transition from a humanitarian to a medium-term development response will require learning based on a multi-pronged approach that addresses the key challenges in the current data ecosystem. These challenges include multiple data collection efforts comprising different types of data and often not driven by a systematic assessment of user needs; the lack of attention to learning from short term monitoring data, during project implementation; and the limited partnership between local and international academics and actors in the generation of data, and in an evidence-based policy dialogue. The current initiative, led by the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice with support from the JDC, to inform the medium-term response to Cox’s Bazar’s development and the Rohingya influx, in coordination with other partners.

The Cox’s Bazar Analytical Program serves as a pilot for learning how partners will need to engage and add value going forward to inform the equity and spatial development dialogue. Equity and spatial development considerations are becoming increasingly important in Bangladesh, given the need for fostering new sources of inclusive growth, the re-emergence of an East-West welfare divide, the continued relevance of connectivity challenges to integrating markets within Bangladesh and linking Bangladesh to world markets, and a focus on bottom-up development.

To inform these considerations, data gaps at the district and sub-district level will need to be filled, leveraging administrative data and geospatial data. Analytical work will need to be tailored to take into account variations in local endowments, connectivity and linkages to growth opportunities. Data needs to be made available to decision-makers in a user-friendly and actionable format. And finally, there is a need to learn quickly about what works in different contexts, including through WBG operations.

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