Biden’s diplomatic picks, UK aid cuts, and vaccine results: This week in development

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People assessing farm animal deaths after tropical cyclone Gati, in Puntland, Somalia. Photo by: Stringer / REUTERS

Biden picks nominations for diplomatic roles, the U.K. cuts its overseas aid budget, the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca announce interim COVID-19 vaccine trial results, and Somalia is hit by the strongest storm on record. This week in development:

U.S President-elect Joe Biden named career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his nomination for ambassador to the United Nations. He is also expected to reestablish the posting to cabinet level, reversing its demotion under the Trump administration, which would give Thomas-Greenfield a seat at the National Security Council. She previously served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs at the State Department from 2013 to 2017, where she led the development and management of U.S. policy on sub-Saharan Africa, including the Ebola outbreak response. She was asked to leave the department amid efforts to push out nearly 2,000 career diplomats from the department in the first year of the Trump administration. She has held diplomatic postings in Liberia, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Gambia, Jamaica and Switzerland. In a tweet on Monday, Thomas-Greenfield said she would use the role to “restore America’s standing in the world and renew relationships with our allies.” Her posting is expected to help mend battered U.S. relations with the U.N. “There is this palpable sense of joy and excitement and relief that a person that is just so competent, so knowledgeable, and really so supremely qualified has been selected to meet this moment,” Travis Adkins, an African and security studies lecturer at Georgetown University, told Devex. Biden’s transition team also named Anthony Blinken, deputy secretary of state under Obama, as nominee for secretary of state, and John Kerry, secretary of state under Obama, as special presidential envoy for climate. The Senate will need to approve the nominations.

The United Kingdom is planning sweeping changes to its aid strategy as it reduces the overseas aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income. The new budget would amount to around £10 billion ($13 billion) next year, which is a cut of about £5 billion compared to its budget last year. The U.K. has spent 0.7% of GNI on aid since 2013, and enshrined it in law in 2015, but now plans to introduce new legislation to ease that target. Although the government says it intends to return to 0.7% spending levels when the fiscal situation allows, critics fear legislative changes signal a permanent shift away from the commitment. “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritize our limited resources on jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people,” Chancellor Rishi Sunak told Parliament on Wednesday. The move was met with heavy criticism from both the development sector and some senior politicians, including FCDO minister Elizabeth Sugg who resigned in protest. Later on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab revealed early details of a new aid strategy that will see the U.K. focus only on countries where its “development, security, and economic interests align,” as well as on seven key global challenges.

The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca announced interim results from the final stage trial of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The data shows that the efficacy of the vaccine ranges between 62% and 90% depending on the dose used, with higher levels of efficacy achieved when the vaccine was given as a half dose in the first shot, and a full dose in the second. But the range of figures created confusion among experts, who hope to gain access to the full data. Dr. Jerome Kim, director general of the International Vaccine Institute, also said the administration of a half dose could be confusing in large vaccination campaigns. Although initial results from the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines found they were more than 90% effective, hundreds of millions of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate have been secured for lower-income countries under the COVAX Facility.

Somalia was hit by the strongest storm on record on Sunday. Tropical Cyclone Gati hit the country with winds of 105 miles per hour, bringing more than a year’s worth of rain in two days. At least eight people were killed and an estimated 70,000 were impacted, with many displaced in Puntland state. Property and roads were damaged and shipping and fishing activities were disrupted. Villages in the Iskushuban district were hit hardest. Most of the affected people are from pastoralist families, whose livelihoods had already been severely damaged by recurring droughts over the past few years. Their herds have dwindled, making their situation extremely difficult even before this storm hit,” said Mohamoud Hassan, country director for Save the Children, in a press release.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.