During his recent visit to the world's largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, the president of the World Food Programme Executive Board Bureau H E Hisham Mohamed Moustafa Badr spoke to DhakaTribune's Afrose Jahan Chaity about his visit and his organization’s future plans in the country
How was your experience in Bangladesh?
My late father was the Egyptian ambassador to Dhaka from 1987 to 1991.
For me, coming back has triggered nostalgia since I have beautiful memories with Bangladesh, with Bengali people. Seeing how things have changed in twenty years -- I mean Dhaka and Bangladesh – it leaves you, strikes you with this positive energy that is surreal.
What strikes you the most?
Things have changed -- a lot of infrastructure being developed; a lot of development in terms of roads, buildings -- it is beautiful. A lot of good work has been done for the country’s development.
What brings you back to Bangladesh?
Bangladesh is very important to us. I would like to thank Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh government for hosting the Rohingya camps. Many countries around the world -- European countries which are significantly richer than Bangladesh, all but closed their doors for the Rohingyas.
And here is Bangladesh, a developing country which houses difficult economic problems of its own but does not shy away from accepting 1.2 mn people. Isn't that a great gesture? My heartfelt gratitude goes to Sheikh Hasina.
But we also believe that it is you who have made this possible. You are not alone; we are on your side.
I will help you. That is why we have spent over 1 bn dollars over the span of five years to ensure that the government which has facilitated this is not left alone.
That is the main purpose of the mission that is underway, and it also forms the basis of how the programme is being run along with necessary cooperation.
We have been spending around 300 mn dollars per year at the camps, and we are spending around Tk650 lakh on a daily basis. This translates to money being invested in the local economy. Since we are buying materials for work on roads, we have big engineering programs.
We do it with International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
We have local suppliers who are providing food that we transfer in digital entitlements. We have a card system through which, they are able to transact roughly around Tk770 per person every month with 19 different items at the stores -- 15 fixed items and four items such as seasonal vegetables.
How was your experience at the Rohingya camps? What is WFP currently focusing on at the camps?
I am very satisfied with the visit. People came running from their country after being subjected to torture, in order to find safe refuge. We found that a lot of good developments have taken place -- the building of new houses, better shelters, providing them with necessary services.
Furthermore, WFP is providing them with gas canisters which ensure that they don’t contribute to further deforestation while searching for firewood. WFP also gives them e-vouchers, with which, they receive food every month.
We are making sure that they get enough food and are helping them to develop skills to make their own little gardens so that they can create an income generation source. WFP has been helping women to work on their sewing skills; along with a school feeding program for children.
All these beautiful children are gifts from God and are born in this difficult scenario.
Our responsibility is to give them food, and education that will encourage them so that they can grow up learning how to love, learning beautiful values such as tolerance, compassion -- and not hate. Since they are growing up in a very difficult situation, they can house seeds of anger inside them. We have to instil compassion in them, and give them a brighter future that is filled with love and hope.
I am very satisfied with the visit, by the great work conducted by the World Food Programme alongside the government. It is a collective job and the UN is delivering it as one.
How long will WFP continue extending their support?
We will continue to provide our support. Ninety people are born every day at the camps. So there is a growing population. WFP is helping the refugees to build houses. The new shelters are much better; well-equipped along with better facilities, infrastructure – roads and bridges that allow people to walk around and so forth.
They seem much more dignified than before. Also, there are economic programmes to ensure sustainable livelihood in place for them so that they can get educated and seek to do other things.
Once the provided fund is finished, there will be a new plan that will be drawn up after the assessment of the needs. It will take into consideration the situation of the Rohingyas -- whether their needs have increased, has there been any repatriation, did it (situation) get worse.
The government and the team here will look at the new needs, and submit their findings to the board and then the executive directors to decide on a new country plan and see if it needs more than 1 bn dollars or less.
How is WFP helping the host community?
There is a massive amount of money (around 300 mn dollars) that is being injected into the local economy. There is a lot of concern that the host community is not benefiting. But whenever there is a large operation around, the host community also benefited.
Since the labour, materials, and all of the food that we get for the camps is sourced primarily from Bangladesh, the money is going to Bangladeshi producers and suppliers.
We are helping the host companies as well. Local procurement is known to have a positive multiplier effect on the economy, notably through the generation of new jobs, which is approximately 40,000 and 80 percent of it belongs to locals from the host community.