Friday, April 29, 2011

Govt turns down $33m UN Rohingya project

Syful Islam

The government has turned down a US$33 million United Nations (UN) project aimed at reducing poverty in Cox's Bazar after it alleged that the scheme mainly targeted at the rehabilitation of Rohingya refugees in the country.

Four United Nations agencies - United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) - initiated the project to cut poverty of the people living in Cox's Bazar's southern most sub-districts of Ukhia and Teknaf.

The sub-districts are home to more than 26,000 recognised and another 200,000 unrecognised Muslim Rohingya refugees who took shelter after fleeing decades-long persecution in northern Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Officials said the Ministry of Finance has rejected the UN development scheme, touted as the largest of its kinds for the region, after they found that the project was undertaken with "mala fide intention".

"The finance ministry has rejected the scheme because the actual aim of the UN initiative is to rehabilitate refugees in Cox's Bazar district under the pretext of poverty reduction for locals", an official told the FE.

"The UN agencies have taken the project as part of its long campaign to get the Rohingyas rehabilitated in Teknaf and Ukhia. The project has been undertaken as a cover for development of the region," he said.

The UN agencies could not be contacted for comments.

But according to the UN project outline, the multi-year-long scheme would reduce poverty by five percentage points in the region and improve the socio-economic status of nearly 300,000 people.

The project has four major components: improving service delivery, improving livelihoods, reducing food insecurity, and improving governance and institutional development.

"The UNJI (United Nations Joint Initiative) is based on a more equitable and inclusive development approach to benefit mainly the host population and any refugees in the operational communities," said the project memo.

But the finance ministry officials said UN has "overstepped its authority" in taking up the project in the sensitive region where the locals harbour deep animosity against the Rohingya refugees.

An inter-ministerial meeting on the project last week made it clear that only the government can take up development projects for the region not the UN or any international charities, officials said.

"Instead of helping cut poverty in the region, the UN project would only increase tension between the Rohingyas and the locals. No doubt, it will infuriate the local people," said the official
Teknaf and Ukhia are two of the country's most poverty-infested regions. Fertility rates of the sub-districts are comparatively high and people suffer from poor access to water and sanitation and health care facilities.

According to the UN memo, part of the project fund would be spent to build schools since people in the region lack basic education facilities and have little choice but to study in Islamic seminaries, or madrasas.

The UNJI had also planned to support local government institutes, build awareness on biodiversity management and environmental conservation and sustainable eco-tourism activities.

The world's largest unbroken beach is located in Cox's Bazar district, whose hills and hillocks are also home to some of the country's rare floras and faunas.

The project set a target to provide a food grant of 30 kilogram of rice or wheat per month each of the poor women residing in the two sub-districts, support poor households through food for work, and food for training.

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