The nearly nine-month-old Ukraine-Russia conflict continues to send shockwaves far and wide across the world, including the world of humanitarian aid.
On 1 March, less than a week from Russia's 24 February invasion, a $1.7 billion flash appeal to provide urgently-needed assistance to Ukraine was sought by the United Nations. By the end of the launch, it was announced that $1.5 billion had been pledged.
In the following month, nearly $9 billion was raised from The Stand Up For Ukraine global pledge campaign - which was largely spearheaded by the European Commission and the government of Canada.
These statistics - a few drops in the bucket in a sea of unwavering support, aid and resources that flowed to Ukraine - are inspired. However, humanitarian aid insiders feared that this kind of support comes at a cost for the rest of the world's humanitarian crises.
And they were, perhaps, right on the money.
The flow of humanitarian aid or funds usually trickles down from governments (or government agencies) to international organisations, and from there to national and local entities. Each government has a foreign aid budget which strictly follows a respective foreign policy.
This means - explains Maruf Mohammed Shehab, Action Aid, Head of Partnerships - when there is an unfolding humanitarian crisis requiring aid and assistance, a government will take from its existing foreign aid budget to provide support to the new crisis.
By default, this would tighten the budget strings for other crises around the world. And so, the committed pledges for the Ukraine crisis, particularly by the Global North, raise concern for the rest of the world.
"When the floods hit this year in Sylhet, we saw devastating floods that occur once in 120 years. We [Action Aid] saw a drastic drop in the allocation of funding from major donors who provide humanitarian aid to disasters like this," said Shehab.
"The way the West looks at Ukraine, they don't look at the rest of the world. They live in a very euro-centric world," said Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka.
However, he did not elaborate on why the West looks at Ukraine the way it does, because "we know all this, of the bias. What is in fact important is the role of the UN [bodies]."
UNHCR was formed with the intent to serve the world on an equal footing, according to the Professor, so if they fail to do so, "they should pack and leave."
Moreover, "our intellectuals have colonised minds," Ahmed explained, "we should [also] be equally aggressive and critical of the United States."
The largest refugee camp in the world
"One of the most active donors for Bangladesh [Action Aid operates in 45 countries across the world] reduced their allocation for natural/man-made disasters," said Shehab, adding, "donors are already informing us that we should expect a 20-30% drop in funding next year for the Rohingya response. And this includes the UN because they don't have the funding."
In the context of Bangladesh, the Rohingya crisis evolved into a protracted crisis (a humanitarian crisis that exceeds three years and therefore generally receives a reduced amount of financial aid over the years). However, it still remains a daunting ground reality that requires funding nevertheless.
In 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reduced its funding expectations for the Rohingya in Bangladesh. The Rohingya Refugee Crisis Joint Response Plan 2022 sought approximately $881 million to support the Rohingya population and received approximately $378 million (43% of the requirement).
One year ago, the plan sought approximately $943 million and received approximately $682 (72% of the requirement).
"The United States committed to $178 million [this year]. All of a sudden the figure dropped to $120 million. This is a drastic drop [And] this is what happened in cases of most donors," said a seasoned humanitarian aid professional in Bangladesh, requesting anonymity
Funding for crisis and diplomacy is heavily dependent on media coverage, along with the UN interventions and the influence of superpowers, further explained the professional.
Did the Ukraine conflict have an impact on humanitarian funding?
"Everyone knows [what happened] after the onset of Ukraine [war]. Global politics plays a huge role for the global bilateral donors [this means government-to-government] and multilateral donors," said the professional, "for example, Nato-countries or Nordic countries donors play a big role in any humanitarian crisis around the world. Now, before spending a single penny, they are taking it to the parliament to have it approved."
Why? Because geopolitics demands so. Every move is thoroughly scrutinised, answered the professional, "one small issue [for instance aid or support] can come up when dealing with a superpower. That's why global bilateral donors, starting from auxiliary governments, are restricted in foreign funding."
In August this year, The Business Standard spoke to Paul McPhun, the Director of Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) regional South-East & East Asia Pacific Partnership (SEEAP), the largest medical services provider within the Cox's Bazar Rohingya camps, for a story on five year anniversary of the 2017 Rohingya influx.
When asked about funding, McPhun said that Joint Response Plan funding decreased from $620 million at the beginning (2017) to a commitment of $200-250 million this year, he also heard concerns from humanitarian professionals on the ground that Ukraine, Afghanistan and other emergencies around the world have really drawn the funding away from Bangladesh and this crisis to other regions.
Of vulnerabilities and climate finance
Along with a protracted crisis, there is a much more pressing climate change crisis. Bangladesh's vulnerability to climate change puts it on top of the list of risks. But securing climate finance is akin to a strange gimmick even. Interestingly, it is climate finance or purely climate change projects that see the most challenge to fulfilling funding.
Climate finance "comes with complications. It is bureaucratic in nature. And the start/implementation periods are lengthy processes, which is a bit unique I must say," said Action Aid's Shehab, "we have funding for different thematic issues such as health, nutrition, food security. But you will find climate change financing is more complicated than the rest."
"So if you want to do anything related to health, there are global bilateral, multilateral donors who will support [fund] health [programmes], which is relatively straightforward in terms of access and availability [of fund]. But climate change — in particular, it's complicated," he said, who also has concerns with LDC graduation which will likely strip Bangladesh of many foreign aid avenues from overseas.