Brexit, ceasefire in Colombia and children at risk: This week in development news

A Zika virus researcher loads samples into a microcentrifuge. Researchers are one step closer to developing a vaccine against the virus, which has sparked a public health crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo by: NIAID / CC BY

As global markets reel after last week's Brexit vote, the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group sign a ceasefire agreement and progress is made on Zika research. This week in development news.

The U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union last week shocked global markets and sent British Prime Minister David Cameron packing. The historic vote to withdraw from the 28-member bloc triggered an immediate devaluation of the British pound, shrinking U.K. aid budgets by about 8 percent. On the EU side, it's unclear yet how profound the long-term effects will be for humanitarian, development and private sector financing instruments, but the loss of U.K. contributions would leave some EU pooled funds reduced by as much as 19 percent, according to European Commission annual reports. Aid executives told Devex the loss of EU funding will hit humanitarian organizations especially hard, while lobbying groups and aid stakeholders mount campaigns to maintain development and humanitarian cooperation with the EU — historically the world’s largest aid donor.

Negotiators from the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group signed a ceasefire agreement after three years of talks, a significant step toward reaching a final peace accord to end the country’s five-decade-long conflict. FARC agreed give up their arms within 180 days of a final peace deal being signed. The demobilization of an estimated 7,000 fighters would take place in specially designated zones under monitoring by the United Nations, which has already approved a mission planned at around 400 personnel. Despite the progress, however, significant disagreements remain between the government and the FARC, including over how the rebel movement could be incorporated into civilian political life. Critics of the deal also warn that even if a peace agreement is signed, a number of other criminal and militant elements — most notably the ELN rebel movement — who are not a part of the negotiations, are likely to continue to exert a violent influence in areas they control.

Climate change was on the agenda at a trio of meetings this week. In the shadow of Brexit, the Business & Climate Summit in London brought heads of multinational businesses, finance institutions and government climate officials to check in on commitments made after the climate talks in Paris in December. Discussions at the summit centered around the challenges of securing climate finance, the need for more collaboration across sectors to bring promising innovation to emerging economies and the importance of adapting climate-smart solutions and policies for a developing world context. In Kigali, Rwanda policymakers and project developers gathered at the African Carbon Forum to discuss regional collaboration on climate challenges after the Paris agreement. And the Green Climate Fund held a board meeting where it announced a shift in focus from its operations to the business of funding proposes and developing partnerships.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank's inaugural annual meeting in Beijing, China, last weekend highlighted its growing significance in development discussions and progress within the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Four projects worth $509 million and a $50 million special fund to assist member governments to build their own capacity and bankability were some of the key announcements made during the event in the Chinese capital. The bank, dubbed as a startup by one of its vice presidents, is also opening its doors for massive recruitment by the end of the year.

Researchers are one step closer to developing a vaccine against the Zika virus, which has sparked a public health crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus has been shown to cause microcephaly in developing fetuses, leading several governments in the region to urge women to put off pregnancy until a solution can be found. Developing a vaccine is an international health priority, and the results from a test vaccine in mice, published in the scientific journal Nature, indicate that a single shot vaccine is likely “readily achievable,” from a medical standpoint. However it may still be years before any vaccine is widely available for humans. Meanwhile in the U.S., Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would have provided $1.1 billion in funding Zika — creating the possibility that no new funding will go to Southern U.S. states preparing for Zika outbreaks over the summer.

UNICEF warns that the 2030 development goals for children are at risk. A new UNICEF report projected that by 2030, 69 million children will die from mostly preventable causes, more than 60 million primary-school-aged children — mostly in sub-Saharan Africa — will be out of school, 750 million girls will marry while still children, and 167 million children will be living in extreme poverty. The report also highlighted the widening disparity between the world’s richest and poorest, finding the poorest children in the study twice as likely as the richest to die before their fifth birthdays. The report raises concerns of failing to meet the SDGs by 2030 if current trends continue.

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