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This report provides an assessment of Norway's bilateral development assistance to Bangladesh, covering the period 2003 to 2007, based on information collected on a selection of projects within the country programme. A mid-term review commissioned by the Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka and Norad, it analyses relevance and impacts with reference to the overall objectives stated in the Memorandum of Understanding (2003-2008) between the two governments and to current development challenges facing Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has been an important development partner for Norway for more than 30 years. Poverty is still widespread and Bangladesh is currently in a critical political situation with a caretaker government having operated for the last 18 months. A key feature of the new government has been the emphasis it has put on fighting corruption.

The review concludes that the Norwegian aid programme is relevant. It focuses on key sectors, such as education, human rights, gender and private sector development. These are all of particular importance for poverty reduction in Bangladesh. It should be noted that this conclusion is not based on a rigorous impact assessment (with baseline data) and draws on reviews of a selection of projects rather than the whole portfolio. There is one exception to the overall positive assessment. The review questions the justification for the private sector support (SEDF) as it does not appear to be targeting the poor.

Norway is generally perceived as a reliable aid donor and one with a strong emphasis on human rights and gender issues. In several cases, Norway has served as a bridge-builder between the GoB and multilateral institutions through its emphasis on recipient responsibility.

The review team is concerned that future aid to Bangladesh seems to have been determined by a recent decision to downsize the Embassy rather than by a careful assessment of past experience, impacts achieved and the needs of the country. It is of concern that this approach stands in sharp contrast to the perception of Norway as a transparent development partner with a high regard for recipient ownership.

The review recommends continued support to the education sector but this requires that the total aid budget to Bangladesh is kept more or less at the current level. Norway should continue its support to human right organisations in Bangladesh. Norway has also played a critically important role on gender issues - and should continue to do so. Regarding private sector support, the review suggests that Norway should develop a clearer strategy for its involvement and consider targeting more of its aid to micro-enterprises or to energy development.

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