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What matters? The Rohingya crisis, one year on.

Richard Lace

Country Director, Bangladesh

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Originally posted here by Dhaka Tribune on August 17th, 2018.

Imagine that you’re in charge of the response to the Rohingya emergency right now. Daunting, right? For a start, you’ve got to make sure that hundreds of thousands of people get the basic services they need. By itself, that’s a huge logistical and operational challenge. But at least your ‘to do’ list might seem pretty obvious: people need food, water, toilets, a place to sleep, medicine. It might be big in scale, but it maybe doesn’t feel so complicated.

Now throw in some of the quirks of Cox’s Bazar: the hilly terrain which makes it difficult to move around; the threat of storms and landslides; and the uncertainty about how long people will stay in the area. All these things make it more difficult for you to provide support to the Rohingya community. But you’re a committed, resourceful individual, so you make the best plan you can and start your task.

That’s when some unexpected obstacles might appear. You’ve planned to distribute rice, daal and oil – but no-one is taking the daal. You’re helping people move their houses away from landslide-prone areas – but no-one wants to go. You’re providing vaccines to protect people from disease – but many of them are left unused.

What’s going on here?

If only there was a way to find out why your logical and well-planned activities haven’t worked so well. Well, of course, there is: by listening to the people affected by a crisis, it’s pretty straightforward to get back on track and avoid these sorts of situations in the first place.

Since the beginning of the Rohingya emergency, BBC Media Action has been helping humanitarian responders to listen more closely to the communities they are supporting. Working with lots of partners, we’ve found many different ways to hear what is being said – both in the camps themselves and in the towns and villages surrounding them.

Whether it’s through radio phone-ins, walk-in centres collecting face-to-face community feedback or direct discussions with affected people, there are now lots of channels through which people can raise their voice and express their worries and concerns. And when all this information – collected by many different relief organisations – is analysed, we can build up a good picture of what people think and need.

We’ve discovered, for example, that most Rohingya people don’t like the taste of daal; that some are worried about a lack of water and health services in the newer, more remote areas of the camps; and that there are concerns that having a vaccination might make people sick. We can also see how different groups of people have different worries. Women are much more concerned about sanitation and hygiene problems in the camp, for example. Some villages within the host community also have very specific concerns – about fishing rights, for example.

With this type of information, relief organisations can be much more targeted in how they support the community: making sure that what they provide is what is actually needed; addressing concerns as they arise; and making sure that the activities they provide are designed with affected people in mind.

It’s not easy, of course. Collecting community feedback in the first place is difficult: Rohingya people speak a different language from most of the relief workers and most are not used to being asked for their opinion. Even once data is collected, some organisations are reluctant to share information which could contain some criticisms of their work. And even once we understand how the community feels and what they are worried about, changing relief plans that were made weeks or months in advance can be a difficult task.

We think it’s critically important, though, which is why we at BBC Media Action will keep making sure that all the relief workers and volunteers have access to the very best information from the communities themselves. It is, after all, those who are living day-to-day in camps and host communities across Cox’s Bazar who are the ones who best understand their own situation and what can be done to improve it.



Richard Lace is the Country Director for BBC Media Action in Bangladesh.

Regular summaries of community feedback related to the Rohingya response is published in the What Matters? bulletin. The work described in this article is a joint BBC Media Action initiative with Internews and Translators without Borders. It is delivered in partnership with IOM and is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).


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