Bangladesh cuts refugee cell service, Dorian slams the Bahamas, and the World Bank's China funding: This week in development

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. Photo by: REUTERS / Dante Carrer

Massive relief effort begins in the Bahamas, foundation leaders pledge more overhead support, and the World Bank president faces his first major test. This week in development:

The government of Bangladesh is taking a heavier handed approach to its treatment of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who crossed the border in 2017. On Monday, Bangladesh ordered telecommunications companies to stop selling SIM cards and to shut down mobile service in the refugee camps, and directed them to submit reports within seven days regarding the actions they have taken. The recent crackdown follows an official policy banning cellphones in the camps, which was instituted in 2017, but never strictly enforced. "We won't be able to communicate with our relatives living in Myanmar or other parts of the world," a Rohingya leader told Al Jazeera, adding that refugees also rely on mobile phones for remittance notifications. The government of Bangladesh cited security concerns — particularly related to illegal drug trafficking — to explain the mobile phone crackdown. Bangladesh has also revealed more information about a plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal, which only began to emerge from the sea within the past two decades. According to DW, which visited the as-yet empty city whose construction has been overseen by Bangladesh’s navy, the government has been pressuring the United Nations to include relocation plans in the 2020 Joint Response Plan, which sets out refugee assistance priorities. If the U.N. does not include Bhasan Char in its plans, government officials told DW they would move forward with relocations anyway.

The World Bank is looking into possible links between its funding and China’s oppression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province. The inquiry comes in the wake of a letter from U.S. lawmakers who expressed concerns and raised questions about a $50 million education and training program the bank approved in 2015, and for which it continues to disburse funding. A subsequent report in Foreign Policy added that a World Bank official had previously raised the issue internally to one of the bank’s executive directors, citing red flags including “educational” facilities purchasing tear gas launchers and other security equipment. The New York Times described the controversy as “the first major test” of World Bank President David Malpass’s tenure. The Trump administration — where Malpass formerly served — was already highly critical of the bank's lending to China. “We are actively looking into the questions that have been raised about the project. If action is warranted, we will take it,” the bank’s spokesperson, David Theis, told the Times.

Five major foundation leaders have banded together to pledge more support for overhead costs among their grantees. The heads of Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Open Society, and Packard jointly announced that they have been working together for two years to examine their grantmaking policies, and will now begin to shift those policies toward more unrestricted funding, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported. Currently, nonprofits that receive foundation funding typically only see a small portion of their operating costs covered by grants, and often only have enough cash on hand to sustain operations for a few months. The foundations do not all plan to adopt the same approach to offering more overhead support, but will instead look at how they can achieve that goal within their own individual funding structures. The move might entail shifts in the structure of their funding — such as issuing fewer but bigger grants, or more overall spending. The five leaders hope their plans will motivate a broader shift throughout the philanthropic sector.

Hurricane Dorian brought unprecedented devastation to the Bahamas, stalling for 40 hours over the island of Grand Bahama on Sunday and Monday, and leaving flattened buildings and inundated communities in its wake. What has been described as “the longest siege of violent, destructive weather ever observed” has now prompted a massive international rescue and relief effort, though some Bahamians have expressed frustration with the official response. The death toll from the storm currently stands at 20, but is expected to rise as search and rescue teams comb through the wreckage. USAID deployed a disaster assistance response team to the Bahamas, as well as fire and rescue teams from around the United States.

About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.