$300M for Beirut, a Russian COVID-19 vaccine, and trouble for DFID staff: This week in development

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Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the country has registered a vaccine against COVID-19, which he has called Sputnik V. Photo by: REUTERS / Kremlin / Handout / Latin America News Agency

A virtual pledging conference raises nearly $300 million for Beirut's recovery, Russia rolls out the first coronavirus vaccine, and DFID's non-U.K. staffers face an uncertain future. This week in development:

Donors raised $298 million for recovery in Beirut at a virtual pledging conference co-convened by the United Nations and the French government, after an explosion at a port warehouse leveled a large swath of the city. Lebanon’s government resigned Monday following protests from citizens, who were already frustrated by a collapsed economy as cases of COVID-19 grew. At least 200 people were killed and thousands of others wounded by the blast, which was reportedly caused by 2,750 metric tons of highly volatile ammonium nitrate that was stored at the port. The event has overwhelmed a medical system that was already ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19, with recovery efforts making social distancing and other pandemic control measures virtually impossible to observe. Also destroyed in the explosion were 120,000 metric tons of staple food stocks such as wheat, soy, and beans, according to the World Food Programme. Lebanon, which also hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, imports 85% of its food. WFP is working to partially replenish the country’s food reserves, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. John Barsa, acting administrator at USAID, traveled to Beirut this week to survey the damage and meet with the agency’s disaster assistance response team, which deployed to help with recovery efforts. The U.S. has pledged $18 million in humanitarian assistance.

Russia has become the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, even though it has not completed late-stage clinical trials. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the vaccine “works effectively enough,” while the country’s health minister said teachers and health workers in Russia will be vaccinated this month. Globally, the first vaccine trials began in March, and 31 potential vaccines are currently being tested with humans, but trials are not expected to be complete until at least the fall. Scientists have raised alarms about Russia’s effort, which has not yet been through phase three trials. “If they get it wrong, it could undermine the entire global enterprise,” said Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced it would produce 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which began its phase three trial on July 27. If it is found to be effective, the vaccine’s rollout would be expedited since doses would be ready for use immediately. But despite the vast amount of donor funding put toward the research effort, there are ongoing concerns about which countries will have access to any vaccines that ultimately prove safe and effective, with some warning that “vaccine nationalism” could leave lower-income countries without.

Staffers of the U.K. Department for International Development who do not hold British nationality were hit with a blow this week, as they were told their career opportunities may be limited after the department’s merger with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. DFID Chief People Officer Helen Mills said that non-U.K. nationals can continue working in their current roles when they transfer to the new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office next month, “up to any pre-agreed end dates.” But they will not be able to move to new roles until the department’s approach to nationality requirements has been decided, with some scheduled job moves now suspended. The issue is due to a discrepancy between nationality requirements for staff members within DFID and FCO, with most jobs at FCO reserved for U.K. nationals. However, the change does not affect local staffers appointed in-country. This is the latest stumbling block as the two agencies prepare to merge next month, with some senior officials concerned that full integration could take years. A report conducted by the Foreign Affairs Committee, a cross-party group of politicians who monitor the FCO, concluded that the new FCDO “risks operating for months without clear strategic direction,” at a time when multiple ongoing global crises require swift responses.

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.