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Local leadership and collaboration, helping people when there is no other support

Start Fund Bangladesh

  • by Helen James
  • 24 Apr 18

The aftermath of the fire in Elias Mollah - credit Muslim Aid

News Article

On the 12 March, a fire ripped through Ellias Mollah, a ‘slum’ in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital. The fire destroyed nearly 5000 homes and a learning centre, affecting the lives of nearly everyone who lives there –  23,500 people – in different ways.

This relatively small urban crisis would typically have happened without external help to enable people to recover quickly. But thanks to the Start Fund Bangladesh, four organisations were able to begin working together within a week to provide cash-based grants, hygiene kits and mosquito nets.

People in Ellias Mollah are mostly day labourers and workers in the nearby garment factories, they need to be close to work to ensure they can arrive on time every day. Without help from the Start Fund to rebuild their homes and recover key assets quickly, more people would have had to have moved away and would have risked losing their jobs.

The response itself was interesting in many ways. The consortium managing the response was chaired by the local organisation involved – Dhaka Ahsania Mission – best placed to do so, as they ran the learning centre in the camp which was destroyed in the fire, so they know the community well and what they need.

It was also delivered collaboratively, with the three funded Start Network members – Muslim Aid, Christian Aid and Caritas Bangladesh – working closely together along with Dhaka Ahsania Mission (already Christian Aid’s partner in Dhaka). The awarded agencies also worked with local Government to ensure additional support (the local MP was involved in the distribution of rice and food) and other agencies such as WaterAid (who brought in a water truck to ensure people had clean water).

The context is also interesting, as urban responses are not the norm in the humanitarian sector but are representing a growing area that agencies are dealing with. 

Muslim Aid - collecting information from people affected by the fire

The help provided by the organisations included;

  • Cash grants which people used to buy material to rebuild their homes, among other things
  • A new style of mosquito net with a different weave, which makes them less hot
  • Hygiene kits with essentials such as soap, detergent and sanitary napkins

Caritas Bangladesh - hygiene kit

Sajid Raihan, Start Fund Bangladesh Country Manager said:

“The Start Fund Bangladesh is unique in allowing agencies to respond quickly to under the radar emergencies. In this example, the Start Fund provided help when there was no other support, meaning the people in Ellias Mollah who lost their homes, could quickly access cash to rebuild, and did not have to move away from their job and livelihoods.

“This response shows how the Start Fund can enable local organisations to take the lead and encourages agencies to work together. We believe local leadership and collaboration make better responses.”

The Start Fund Bangladesh is hosted by Action Against Hunger Bangladesh Mission and funded by UK Aid. It is the first national version of the Start Fund, the Start Network’s global rapid response fund, filling a gap in the humanitarian sector.

Case study - Mehedi Hassan

Caritas Bangladesh - Mehedi Hassan, front left, at a relief distribution with local MP Alhaz Md. Eliad Uddin Mollah

Mehedi Hassan is 19 and lives in Elias Mollah with his parents and a younger brother who is 12. Mehedi is physically disabled and uses his two hands and knees to get around. His father Md. Jamal Hossain is a street fruit seller and his mother, Mst. Kohinur Begum (35) is a house-maid.

Mehedi recounts the night the fire broke out. “We were asleep. Suddenly we woke up hearing shouting and screaming. In a moment fire spread out all over the slum. I ran out from the slum before other members of my family started running. By the blessing of God, we all reached a safe place.”

“Everything was burnt along with our house. We could not take anything from the house with us.” added Mehedi.

Mehedi and his family had lost everything, and except 60kg of rice and other food to last for around nine days, they had nothing. After the fire, Caritas Bangladesh and other NGOs visited to see what was needed. When funded from the Start Fund arrived in the days following, Caritas Bangladesh was able to begin helping people.

They were able to give Mehedi and his family an unconditional cash grant of Tk. 4,500 (£39), a hygiene kit (which included hand washing soap, washing powder and bathing soap among other items) and a ‘Magic’ mosquito net.  Mehedi’s father is planning to use the unconditional cash to buy a wheelchair for Mehedi so that he can move easily.

The family was grateful for the help and Mehedi said: “If Caritas Bangladesh and the Donor Organization did not [help] in that critical moment we would not able to survive.”

Caritas Bangladesh supported 1,230 households in total in the same way.

Read more about the Start Fund Bangladesh.

Read more about the Start Fund.


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Start Fund Bangladesh

  • by Helen James

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