International aid agencies have been providing funds since the beginning of the Rohingya influx in 2017, supporting Bangladesh in offering life-saving assistance to the forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens.
But as the years rolled on without much progress towards an effective and sustainable Rohingya repatriation process, the funding gap seen in the previous two years became even wider in 2020.
This year, the United Nations (UN) appealed for more than $1 billion in aid to meet the humanitarian needs of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, but donors contributed less than half the amount till October 17.
The deadly Covid-19 pandemic has made the already significant funding gap much worse, said a recent statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The gap is hitting the country at a crucial moment as it reels from the pandemic's impacts.
A brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military forced around 750,000 Rohingyas to flee across the border to Bangladesh in 2017. During the advent of the crisis, the total funding for the Rohingyas in the country reached around $656 million in 2018, boosted by the global outrage over Myanmar's brutality.
The achieved funding was 69% of the $951 million sought by the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) under the Joint Response Plan that year. In 2019, Rohingyas received a funding of around $635 million.
Global funding for the Rohingyas had a gap of more than 30% in 2018 and 2019, but it reached around 52% in 2020. International donors provided only $509.95 million till October, but the ISCG had sought $1,058 million from the donors, including $181 million for Covid-19 response.
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, professor at International Relations Department of the University of Dhaka, said, "Amid the Covid-19 crisis, the donor countries should make a serious effort to provide adequate funding for the Rohingyas.
"Otherwise, any unrest at Rohingya camps will impact all stakeholders."
In a bid to boost funding, the UN refugee agency, along with the US, the UK, and the European Union will bring the international community together on October 22 to address the issue.
Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Shah Rezwan Hayat told The Business Standard, "We are not involved in the funding process. But we can confirm that the available funding is decreasing. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the reasons behind it."
Along with the stranded Rohingyas, Bangladesh also brought around 4.5 lakh local people under the humanitarian assistance programme after they were impacted by the Rohingya crisis. Under the circumstances, the government is already having difficulties in supporting the Rohingyas.
Due to the decreasing funding from the global community, the huge responsibility of providing the stranded Rohingyas with food, healthcare and other assistance is falling on Bangladesh's shoulders, experts said.
More alarmingly, the Rohingyas are leaving the refugee camps and spreading in surrounding regions in search of a better life, which is severely impacting the host community.
Responding to a query, ISCG's Coordinator in Cox's Bazar Saikat Biswas said, "We are cutting back on expenses as we are not receiving the funds we sought from the global donors. We cannot complete many projects due to the shortage of funds.
"The wide gap in funding has raised concerns about cost management in the coming days."
Abu Morshed Chowdhury, co-chair of Cox's Bazar CSO-NGO Forum (CCNF), said, "Many Rohingyas are secretly working in the surrounding areas. If the funding continues to decrease, the job market of the host community will be impacted severely."
"Besides, the law and order situation will be deeply impacted as the Rohingyas would get involved in many illicit activities."
He also claimed that international NGOs and the UN bodies are using a huge portion of the funding as their management cost, adding, "If they can minimise their management costs, it will be a great support for the Rohingyas and host communities."
Yet to be successful in repatriating this huge number of people, the government had to spend Tk2,312 crore to relocate one lakh of them to Bhashan Char. In addition, it spent Tk200 crore from the 2019-20 budget under the social safety net programmes and has earmarked another Tk202 crore in the current fiscal year's budget.
According to the UNHCR, the registered number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh is 860,697 as of 2020. An official of the RRRC told The Business Standard that on average, 30,438 babies are born at 34 Rohingya camps every year.