The most densely populated country in the world besides city states, Bangladesh recently saw a massive influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, with more than 740,000 people fleeing across the border since August 2017. They joined more than 200,000 Rohingyas who had fled violence previously. The World Food Programme (WFP) launched an emergency operation to meet the food and nutritional needs of the population, providing food to around 880,000 refugees, treatment and prevention of malnutrition, school feeding, engineering and disaster risk reduction work, logistics, and emergency telecommunications.
Having graduated to lower-middle-income country status in 2015, over recent years Bangladesh has experienced sustained economic growth and achieved significant development gains, especially on universal primary education, gender parity in basic education and child and maternal mortality. Poverty and extreme poverty have been declining sharply, sitting in 2010 at 31.5 and 17.6 percent respectively, with further reductions until today.
However, despite progress and the improved availability of food due to increased production, 40 million people – one quarter of the population – remain food insecure, and 11 million suffer from acute hunger.
Stunting – a condition induced by poor nutrition, with negative effects on a child’s physical growth and cognitive development – affects 36 percent of children under 5, with peaks of 50 percent among the poorest and those living in slums. In total, 5.5 million children under 5 are chronically malnourished.
Because of its geography – featuring low elevation and vast watercourses – Bangladesh is greatly susceptible to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. Between 30 and 50 percent of the country suffers severe climate shocks every year, with detrimental impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the still predominantly rural population. The frequency and intensity of natural disasters is predicted to increase in coming years. Bangladesh’s vulnerability to earthquakes, coupled with the increasing proportion of population living in cities, also raises concerns regarding urban readiness for such disasters.
Since the beginning of its activities in Bangladesh in 1974, the WFP has helped more than 155 million vulnerable and food-insecure people. While retaining its role as provider of humanitarian assistance – be it for refugees from Myanmar or people affected by recurrent disasters – WFP is shifting towards a more advisory role, assisting the Government in its efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger. One of WFP’s priorities is to support the Government of Bangladesh in making sure its social safety nets improve nutrition indicators, with a special focus on women and children affected by extreme poverty. WFP also tests innovative tools – such as insurance systems – to enhance the resilience of families and communities to natural disasters, and works to improve the Government’s capacity to respond to a major humanitarian disaster such as an urban earthquake.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Bangladesh
WFP provides life-saving assistance to 870,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazar. While half the refugees receive in-kind food distributions of rice, pulses and fortified oil, the other half receive a WFP assistance card, pre-loaded with a monthly entitlement, which they can use to buy a variety of food, including fresh vegetables, eggs, and dried fish, in WFP-contracted shops in the camps. All refugees have been transitioned to the card system.
WFP assists the Government in bringing nutrition indicators into line with national targets by 2020 by providing technical assistance, analysis and advocacy to enhance the nutrition impact of safety nets and promote the adoption of healthy eating habits. WFP also works to ensure the quality, affordability and consumption of fortified rice. The development of a national school meals policy and the scale up of assistance by the Government remains an area of focus. In Cox's Bazar, WFP provides nutrition support to refugees to prevent and treat malnutrition.
To protect people’s livelihoods from recurrent natural disasters and improve resilience, WFP is researching and testing innovative tools, including insurance for small entrepreneurs and using forecast-based financing models to support shock-responsive safety nets. WFP also participates in a programme combining community disaster risk reduction with actions to address the causes of vulnerability, including economic access, women empowerment and nutrition.
Capacity building for emergency preparedness
WFP is working to strengthen the Government’s capacity to prepare for, and respond to, large-scale disasters, with a special focus on urban readiness for earthquakes. WFP supports the Government in enhancing its supply chain for emergency assistance and establish a strategically-located, earthquake-resistant staging area to facilitate the reception and dispatch of humanitarian assistance in response to a large-scale emergency. WFP also co-leads and leads the Food Security Cluster and Logistics Cluster respectively, to ensure better coordination and preparedness in case of a disaster.
Logistics and engineering common services
The sudden influx of refugees means people have been living in over-crowded and dangerous situations. Slopes in the camps are unstable and are at risk of collapsing during monsoon rains. Through logistics and engineering services, WFP ensures access to supplies through weatherproof storage and rapid response stocks, and mitigates the impacts of monsoon rains, making the camps a safer place to live. The Emergency Telecommunications cluster, led by WFP, also provides technical support to the operations.