A diplomatic surge for Yemen and indicators for the SDGs: This week in development

A wide view of a session of the three-day ministerial segment of the U.N. High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Photo by: Kim Haughton / U.N.

Humanitarian officials press for Yemen relief and U.S. diplomacy, the U.K.’s new aid strategy gets its first progress report, and the United Nations adopts Sustainable Development Goal indicators. This week in development.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a set of indicators that will measure progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. The “global indicator framework” is a “voluntary and country-led instrument that includes the initial set of indicators to be refined annually.” To track progress toward SDG 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere) for example, countries will be asked to report the “proportion of population below the international poverty line, by sex, age, employment status and geographical location (urban/rural),” among 14 other indicators associated with that goal. Delegates adopted the indicators at a high-level political forum in New York, where some representatives questioned the distance between U.N. processes and on-the-ground realities.

Humanitarian officials pressed the need for a diplomatic surge in Yemen to stem conflict and improve access to food aid for the 17 million Yemenis who are currently food insecure. Matthew Nims, the acting director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, told the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the food insecurity and the cholera epidemic in Yemen are both the result of conflict in the country, the consequences of which experts urged could be mitigated by increased U.S. pressure on Saudi Arabia to allow humanitarian access. “We’re not here to pick on anybody, but this is a conflict that innocent children are dying from, innocent people are suffering from and so we ask particularly those who reside and live in this area, the Gulf states, Saudi, to please step up and fund the humanitarian free-for-all, the consequences of the conflict,” said the World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley. Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, also took aim at Saudi Arabia’s role in exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, calling on the government to allow the import of cranes that could help restore operations at the port of Hudaydah, a key transit point for food aid distribution.

The United Kingdom’s controversial cross-government aid strategy received its first progress report, and while the U.K. Department for International Development is performing better than ever, government departments newly tasked with aid — and even some that are old hat, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office — are struggling. The National Audit Office pointed to a long list of problems: from uneven, “rushed-seeming” spending and a lack of coherent management, to an ever-increasing number of aid priorities. Aid officials also expressed concern about the new challenge of monitoring cross-government spending, and asked whether U.K. aid’s good record on transparency might be at stake.

A U.S. House of Representatives budget committee approved a spending bill that would cut $10 billion from U.S. foreign affairs programs and U.S. contributions to international organizations. In a session that stretched late into the night on Wednesday, lawmakers debated funding levels and policies contained in the proposal, offering several amendments to it — most of which were defeated. Among the most controversial provisions is a policy supported by the Trump administration, which would expand the “global gag rule” — also known as the Mexico City Policy — which requires organizations to adopt an anti-abortion policy in order to receive any of the $8.8 billion in U.S. global health funding. A previous version of the policy only applied to U.S. family planning funds. The budget bill would also require the State Department to submit a report to the committee on any foreign affairs reorganization plans before putting them into effect. In testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Monday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told lawmakers that there is currently no intention at the department to merge the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, a controversial reform idea that the Trump White House has reportedly considered.

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About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.