COVID-19 reshapes development, USAID's leadership battle, and trouble for World Vision Australia: This week in development

Security personnel stand guard on the Simón Bolívar International Bridge after its closure in Cucuta, Colombia. Photo by: REUTERS / Ferley Ospina

A defining global health challenge, a surprising leadership transition, and a brewing nepotism scandal. This week in development:

The COVID-19 outbreak is reshaping the global development sector — the only question is: For how long? Aid workers and organizations are simultaneously called to respond to an unprecedented global health challenge and faced with heavy constraints on how they are able to operate. Development finance institutions and donors are moving to mobilize large amounts of funding for prevention, response, and recovery efforts, in anticipation of more disruption to health systems, economies, and societies around the world. The World Health Organization launched a new COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund on Friday, the World Bank increased its financing commitment for response efforts to $14 billion Tuesday, and the Asian Development Bank announced a $6.5 billion financing package Wednesday.

Accelerating the TB Response: An online conversation with Dr. Lucica Ditiu and Dr. Susan Maloney

On Monday, March 23, Devex and USP are presenting a digital Newsmaker event to discuss how international development actors can help accelerate the tuberculosis response and ensure access to care. Register here.

As governments have implemented drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus, development organizations have been forced to adapt to a new reality of limited movement, restricted access, and closing borders. The Colombian government closed its border with Venezuela on Saturday and instructed NGOs operating nearby to restrict their activities to half capacity. Around the world, relief organizations accustomed to operating at the front lines of conflict and disaster find their operations disrupted by efforts to control the spread of the disease. All of Médecins Sans Frontières’ European offices are closed, and the organization is grasping for creative ways to continue supporting its patients. Speaking to Devex from home quarantine, Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, described the wide variety of conditions facing NRC’s country teams and the urgent need for funding flexibility to allow them to adapt their operations. Last week, in an unprecedented move, the Peace Corps suspended its global operations and evacuated all of its volunteers. While many low-income countries — particularly in sub-Saharan Africa — have seen relatively fewer cases of COVID-19 so far, governments and health workers are preparing for a wider spread, which could strain the capacity of health systems and put people with existing health problems at risk.

Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, announced Monday that he will step down in April after nearly three years at the helm of the world’s largest bilateral aid agency. Green’s announcement sparked a brief power struggle at USAID, as the White House opted to designate the head of the agency’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, John Barsa, to take over instead of promoting the current deputy administrator, Bonnie Glick, as previously expected. Barsa will now assume leadership of USAID as the agency braces to respond to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, which many anticipate will spread more widely through USAID’s partner countries than it already has. Barsa previously served at the Department of Homeland Security, where he was involved in the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and he has played a central role in key foreign policy issues, such as stemming migration from Central America and the administration’s opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. People familiar with Barsa described him as a politically well-connected — and politically savvy — official who has experience working in the U.S. interagency process and has boosted the morale and political stature of his bureau. Green’s last day at the agency will be April 10.

World Vision Australia is facing nepotism and corruption allegations after a whistleblower raised concerns about an apparent kickback scheme involving one of the charity’s executives. In a statement on March 8, World Vision Australia Chief Financial Officer Gordon Allison said the organization is “deeply concerned by the allegations of inappropriate conduct,” had notified the police, and has brought in the auditing company KPMG to conduct a formal, independent investigation. World Vision Australia’s now-former CEO, Claire Rogers, resigned shortly before the allegations were made public, but the organization and its chairman have denied her resignation had anything to do with the alleged corruption. On March 11, the charity also revealed a self-reported payroll error that saw roughly “200 casual and 45 permanent employees” underpaid.

About the author

  • 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.