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  • Writer's pictureAishwarya Iyer

Making localization work : Examples from Bangladesh and South Sudan

Humanitarian agencies view localization as a process of recognizing and delegating, leadership, decision-making to national actors in humanitarian action. Localization approach includes diverse voices and ensures cultural appropriateness so that local values are respected, as well as contested when it comes to matters related to gender equality and social justice.


Disaster risk management widely adopts, supports and critiques various modalities for ‘localization’ of programmes, products and services and working with communities. This often requires a process that leverages scientific thinking around human behavior, capacity building and emergent institutional partnerships. Studies around humanitarian action has critiqued the existing humanitarian model whereby international donors and humanitarian agencies prefer providing standardized tangible goods, services and scientific messaging instead of adopting an approach towards co-production between various local actors and inclusion of traditional knowledge systems with scientific and technical expertise.

Localization by Faith based leaders in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh

We undertook formative research on the roles of local faith-based leaders such as Imams and moajjins during the COVID-19 response leaders in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It emerged that faith actors played a crucial role in spreading awareness on mitigating the effects of COVID-19 among the Rohingya community members. Our qualitative findings indicate that there were several misbeliefs and inappropriate information shared by both the community and faith leaders. While there is a strong feeling that Allah’s curse has led to the pandemic, a proportion of the people believe it as a response to the sins committed, as nature’s response to man’s cruelty and even as disobedience to Allah.


It also revealed the concern raised by the leaders over women not being able to maintain proper ‘purdah’ and therefore restrict their participation entirely. Talking about misinformation (faith-based leaders being an indirect source), our study revealed that over 72% of respondents believed that COVID-19 is what ‘Allah thinks is best for all of us’, while 67% felt the virus is a punishment by Allah for wrongdoings by human beings. Surprisingly, 43% felt this is because women are not following ‘Purdah’ and 43% saw it as Allah’s dissatisfaction with them as a valid reason for COVID-19.


However, with appropriate training and relevant information, they were able to tackle widespread misinformation and misbeliefs about “Corona” amongst both host and refugee population. Existing research on working with faith leaders caution against the biases and preferences of local actors, who tend to advocate for people they know, for relief distribution and resource allocation, and channeling services based on their personal relations. A Rapid Gender study by the ISCG Gender Hub in Cox’s Bazar found that the communities in question reported that most of them would not allow women to go into isolation and treatment with unknown to go into isolation and treatment with unknown men and 100% reported that the concept of mixed rooms would be unacceptable.


The localization approach advocated for in this study makes the case for an increased contextual knowledge of Rohingya community’s social dynamics and socio-cultural beliefs and faith practices to enhance the understanding of their behaviors. This will improve humanitarian organization's ability to implement COVID-19 programming in line with Rohingya needs.


Localization as a last resort in South Sudan

In South Sudan, under DEC COVID-19 Appeal several organizations have been tackling the impact of floods by meeting food, shelter, livelihoods, water, and sanitation support besides providing information on COVID-19, handwashing and provisioning Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for health staff. We undertook a process evaluation with local partners

Christian Aid and Africa Development Aid (ADA). Data from interviews with key stakeholders indicate that the impact of floods on populations living in Ayod and Fangak have been higher than the health risks posed by COVID-19. There is a looming hunger and food insecurity due to conflicts, floods and inability to produce food due to waterlogging. There was a high degree of reliance on food distribution by humanitarian agencies like World Food Programme (WFP) which has now been stopped.

Persistent waterlogging annual rainfall and floods has led to internal displacement. Displaced populations have to wade through knee-deep waters or use canoes to

Consequently, cases of malaria and cholera along with COVID-19 are on the rise as WASH, shelter and health needs remain unaddressed. Regions within these provinces are highly inaccessible, and external humanitarian agencies find it difficult to access the flood-hit areas during monsoons.


In such a scenario, localization remains the only effective means to facilitate collective action. We documented examples where displaced community members organized themselves to build flood protection measures such as dykes and embankments within their payams.




Photo Credit: ADA


Women in these communities often look after the household including cooking, taking care of children, and managing household expenses. Given the flooding and inaccessibility situation, women often go for ‘finding food’ into the water-logged swampy areas to catch fishes. Without proper fishing equipment they use their clothes to catch fish or collect water lilies which are cooked along with flour.


Unlike Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, localization in South Sudan is different. The objectives for using localisation approach and modalities for humanitarian service delivery and for engaging with local communities and leaders has drastically changed. In South Sudan, localization is the last resort by the community members in the absence of external humanitarian action, it is a dire necessity and is underlined by the need for survival while facing threat to life.

Way forward

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also shifted humanitarian aid where agencies deployed digital tools and approaches in humanitarian contexts as lockdown measures restricted mobility. As Ben Ramalingam FRSA explains in his blog, “Our international leaders (should) take a bold, collective and humane decisions to protect the health of the millions of people living in urban slums and refugee camps, migrants and internally displaced people, those incarcerated in prisons (where social distancing is an impossibility), including evacuating and re-housing people to safer and more secure spaces.” This task requires a rethinking of localised efforts ranging from decentralised responses that enable local actors to listen to diverse voices, work towards identifying community priorities and develop localised strategies and work towards collective solutions.



This article was written by Aishwarya Iyer with inputs from Sneha Krishnan


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Apar Purwar
Apar Purwar
Aug 19, 2021

Excellent coverage😀

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