Social protection across the humanitarian-development nexus

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SPaN (2019) Case Study: Bangladesh

Rohingyas in Bangladesh

© European Union/KM Asad

This Case Study on Bangladesh summarises the opportunities identified by the ECHO-funded technical assistance facility to improve assistance addressing risk and vulnerability in Cox´s Bazar.

Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. This combined with high poverty rates threatens livelihoods and drives inter-generational poverty and malnourishment. The importance of social protection in enabling the poor and vulnerable to better manage risks is well understood and the government is strongly committed.

A portfolio of safety net programmes have contributed to poverty reduction efforts, however significant overlaps, gaps 
in coverage and constraints to scalability currently limit the system’s ability to foster resilience to shocks. The government’s National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) guides reforms supported by a range of development partners. This includes strengthening delivery systems, improving targeting, and rationalising existing schemes, moving towards a ‘life cycle approach’ to effectively tackle risks.

Case Study Bangladesh (PDF)

An ECHO-funded technical assistance facility, managed by the World Food Programme (WFP), explored how social protection systems could be strengthened. This briefing note summarises the technical assistance in Bangladesh, where the team of experts mapped the landscape of safety net programmes for the Bangladeshi population in Cox’s Bazar, identifying the extent of linkages between humanitarian action and the national social protection system, good practices and idiosyncratic risks, gaps and bottlenecks.

Cox’s Bazar district has some of the highest rates of poverty and malnutrition in Bangladesh. The population is vulnerable to recurrent weather-related shocks. The social protection system does not effectively address the risks that households face, creating humanitarian needs met through parallel (governmental or international) channels. Since 2017 this district also hosts thousands of Rohinga refugees displaced from Myanmar, straining host communities. 

Government safety nets are established in the district and aid agencies are also providing assistance to citizens in the affected areas. The assignment, led by WFP and FAO, complements the efforts of the government of Bangladesh (GoB) and development partners to reform and strengthen social protection. The multiagency approach helped bring together organisations experienced in different aspects of social protection, from development and humanitarian spheres, to define common objectives.

Data was used to map and compare social protection and humanitarian programme features (selection criteria, type and value of transfer, frequency of payment, size, budget) and to analyse the opportunities and constraints for strengthening collective efforts to address needs of vulnerable populations. Developing this shared understanding of issues and actions can allow mobilisation towards a common goal in future.

This case study is divided into seven parts:

Overview of the study

Country Context

Research Method



Next steps

Lessons learned

Findings of the technical assistance identified opportunities for the government and UN agencies to collaborate and deliver assistance more efficiently and effectively, including knowledge transfer between actors/schemes, consolidating programmes, adapting or scaling up existing programmes during crises, strengthening systems, and improving coordination. Encouragingly, some have already been pursued by the GoB.

Constraining factors are also identified which must be addressed if effective linkages are to be made. For instance, systemic data issues impede provision of an effective response and the design of a social protection approach. Implementing reforms planned under the NSSS is necessary to build a social protection system for addressing covariate shocks and the socio-political environment in Bangladesh offers entry points for aid agencies to influence the changes needed. 

It is feasible to adapt government programmes to respond to shocks, subject to further research and strategic and operational coordination. While focusing on risks facing host communities in Cox’s Bazar, actions can also improve effectiveness of social protection to address vulnerabilities nationwide. Once data gaps are filled and the road map validated and endorsed in country, actors can be assigned leads, actions integrated into strategic plans of UN agencies, and resources mobilised.

The Bangladesh case study is also part of the “Guidance Package on Social Protection across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus” (SPaN). Visit the Guidance Package´s wiki page for a full list of SPaN´s studies. 

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Social Protection - Knowledge Management Specialist
Zena Mouawad
12 April 2019

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