A UK aid leadership shakeup, rebranding Belt and Road, and Ebola funding shortfalls: This week in development

Rory Stewart, the new U.K. secretary of state for international development. Photo by: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC BY

The World Health Organization is short on Ebola funding, Belt and Road looks to improve its image, and Rockefeller hands off its resilience portfolio. This week in development:

The U.K. Department for International Development has its fourth leader in three years, after a government shakeup on Wednesday that saw former secretary of state for international development Penny Mordaunt moved to the Ministry of Defence and replaced by Rory Stewart, a longtime development and foreign policy leader. Almost immediately after taking on his new role, Stewart offered a strong defense of the U.K. government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income on foreign assistance. Speaking to the BBC’s Robert Peston on Wednesday evening, he called climate change a “calamity” that Britain should be at the forefront of addressing, and he argued that strong global development will help the country maintain its global presence in a post-Brexit world. Members of the U.K. aid community welcomed Stewart’s appointment, describing him as an experienced “aid champion.” Some admitted to growing concerned with Mordaunt’s priorities, and one hoped that Stewart would “put U.K. aid back on track.” At the same time, Mordaunt, who was in the role for 18 months, has drawn praise for her leadership on building a stronger safeguards regime for U.K. development programs in the wake of high-profile incidents of abuse.

The World Health Organization is warning that governments are not contributing enough funding for the Ebola response and containment effort in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After a visit to Butembo, a city in eastern DRC where WHO epidemiologist Richard Mouzoko was killed by armed men on April 19, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he is “profoundly worried about the situation.” On Sunday, WHO confirmed 27 new cases of Ebola, a record for the current outbreak, which has seen close to 1,500 total cases and nearly 1,000 deaths.[a] “We are entering a phase where we will need major shifts in the response. WHO and partners cannot tackle these challenges without the international community stepping in to fill the sizeable funding gap,” Tedros said in a statement. WHO reported that only half of the funds it has requested from the international community have been received so far, which could result in some activities being rolled back, “precisely when they are most needed.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised greater transparency and attention to debt sustainability in China’s massive infrastructure investment plans at the second Belt and Road Summit in Beijing last week. In a speech that marked a shift in tone from two years earlier, Xi promised to create a “debt-sustainability framework” for the Belt and Road Initiative, and he offered assurances that the loosely coordinated effort would seek to “promote green development.” Xi’s comments were seen as an attempt to address rising criticisms that BRI has contributed to unsustainable debt levels in places where it invests, that its financing arrangements lack transparency and largely involve Chinese state-owned firms — and Chinese labor — and that the initiative represents a major climate threat if it does not prioritize low-carbon infrastructure.

Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah visited the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., for the official launch of a new resilience center that is meant to replace 100 Resilient Cities. Last month it was revealed that Shah intended to end Rockefeller’s support for 100RC, a highly lauded signature initiative of his predecessor Judith Rodin. The controversial decision — which has left 100RC’s network of chief resilience officers wondering about their future — is seen as part of a broader effort by Shah to reposition Rockefeller around issues more closely associated with his background in health and human development.

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.