Chittagong Hill Tracts Rural Development Project
sector: Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Rural Development, Finance, Transport | country: Bangladesh
The project was initiated and prepared in 1999-2000, only 2 years after the signing of the Peace Accord, ending 25 years of insurgency and instability. Many high-risk incidents during project implementation could therefore be expected. The executing and implementing agencies had just been established, and their institutional capacity to implement projects was still being developed and strengthened.
The unilateral withdrawal of a relatively large amount of cofinancing by Danida (around 50% of the total amount allocated for the rural access component) after project approval considerably delayed implementation and created difficulties in meeting project objectives and targets. The cofinancing was unfortunately a condition of loan effectiveness. The project was declared effective in October 2002, after the cofinancing condition was declared void. The withdrawal of cofinancing coincided with United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) suspension of all missions to the Chittagong hill tracts or CHT (2001- 2002) due to the kidnapping of Danida experts, and project activities could start only in early 2003.
The improvement of connectivity and access between rural and remote areas of the CHT, especially with the market centers, was crucial for development. The project directly and indirectly affected all aspects of rural life in the CHT. During the project completion review mission and earlier missions, villagers asked whether more livelihood projects would be provided in their area.
When designing and implementing rural infrastructure in remote areas with indigenous populations as potential workers and beneficiaries, there must be a careful review of local habits and customs to understand how these can accommodate the common modalities of civil contracting. The original project schedule was too optimistic and did not leave enough time for careful review and adjustment. In such a case, a component that does not suit the needs of a specific target population could leave that population unserved or bypassed. For example, jhum cultivators did not benefit much from the project components except from the improvements in rural access.
The rural roads improved under the project generally established all-weather connectivity between remote communities and growth-center markets and other important centers with economic, health, and educational facilities. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and other government service providers could also reach rural remote inhabitants more easily.
The sustainability of several community development subprojects owned by beneficiary groups was considered an issue during implementation. However, except for a few specific technical support requirements, the beneficiary groups assumed responsibility for activities such as the maintenance of small irrigation and power tiller schemes. Besides, several group members also gained access to micro-credit through the project. The Palli Karma Shahayak Foundation (PKSF) or other NGOs may further expand their microenterprise activities in the CHT after the project.
Before the project, microfinance was nearly absent in the rural areas of the CHT. The project introduced a relatively sustainable microfinance arrangement through local NGOs. Despite the existence of the other project providing grant assistance, the microfinance facilities under the ADB project are gradually expanding to meet demand in remote communities.
The project completion report (PCR) identified lessons and highlighted the importance of acknowledging local practices, stakeholder participation, and a more realistic project schedule. The PCR’s lessons section, however, focused on discussions of project design and implementation issues. Overall, this validation concurs with the stated lessons.