Participants at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by: Benedikt von Loebell / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

World leaders, entrepreneurs and development leaders gather at the World Economic Forum Latin America in Buenos Aires and at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, while a gas attack in Syria highlights an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the United States cuts funding to the UNFPA. This week in development news.

The World Economic Forum is gathering leaders from Latin America in Buenos Aires this week at a crucial time for the region. Sustained economic growth, new trade relationships (particularly with Asia), a new peace deal in Colombia, and a rising middle class are among the good news trends that set the stage. But storm clouds are never far away, in the form of uncertainty over U.S. trade and immigration policies, persistent inequality, a growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and corruption scandals in Brazil. That makes Latin America a case study for the question Devex CEO Raj Kumar posed this week: Can real and growing innovation and development progress outrun negative and nationalist economic and political trends? The development community’s role may be more crucial than ever in helping Latin America buck some of the challenges ahead, for example, improving access to education and helping reach the region’s most vulnerable communities, as Devex’s Kelli Rogers writes in our summit preview. Keep following our coverage and on social media @devex, @kellierin, @amylieberman and @raj_devex.

Scores of civilians were killed and hundreds more injured after an apparent gas attack in Syria, which the United States and other Western countries have blamed on the Syrian government. Victims in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun reported airstrikes early on Tuesday morning, followed by symptoms of respiratory distress, foaming at the mouth, and dangerously low blood pressure. Rudimentary health facilities still functioning in the area struggled to stabilize the survivors, including dozens of children. UNICEF says at least 27 children were killed. An autopsy of several victims who made it to the Turkish border, but subsequently died, confirmed chemical weapons use, that country’s government said. Experts have said the symptoms are consistent with a nerve agent such as Sarin gas, which is odorless and disproportionately affects children. The incident is just the latest in a string of smaller scale chemical attacks in the country, as well as a smaller number in neighboring Iraq. It is also a grim reminder of the humanitarian suffering in Syria that has now seen more than 5 million refugees displaced across the region and many more inside of Syria. Countries at the Brussel’s donor conference on Wednesday pledged $6 billion in aid to respond to the crisis — $2 billion less than what the United Nations says it needs in 2017.

At the Skoll World Forum, more than a thousand social entrepreneurs, donors, investors, leaders from the corporate sector, and musical legends Bono and Don Henley descended on Oxford, England, to discuss prominent global challenges, as well as promising solutions. This year’s topic was “Fault Lines: Creating Common Ground.” Devex is there reporting and also hosted an event in partnership with the Skoll Foundation, building on Devex’s recently released report on ways social entrepreneurs can pursue opportunities in the public sector. The key role intermediaries play in bringing donors and entrepreneurs together resonated with panelists, including former USAID Administrator Gayle Smith and the audience. Media being under threat came up as one theme, as Devex reported, including the announcement of a new $100 million commitment from the Omidyar Network to help reverse "the global trust deficit" and support independent media. Global health was another prominent theme with World Bank President Jim Kim warning the international community is trapped in a cycle of “panic and neglect” and ill-prepared for another Ebola-scale pandemic.  

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convened a global development forum this week to push forward discussions about engaging the private sector in the Sustainable Development Goals. OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría hinted that, despite difficult economic and political times, official development assistance rose slightly in 2016, but said that those resources must be better used to leverage private financing. While businesses were underrepresented in the crowd, several interesting insights emerged from attendees, including that the capital needed to catalyze increased business involvement in the Sustainable Development Goals — about $2.4 trillion — is less than 1 percent of investment capital available today. Devex spoke with the deputy secretary general of the OECD, former U.K. Department for International Development Chief Andrew Mitchell, members of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, and the director general for economic relations at Mexico’s AMEXCID. Stay tuned to Devex for more from associate editor Adva Saldinger’s coverage of the forum and French development assistance.

U.S. President Donald Trump cut all future funding to the U.N. Population Fund, costing the agency its second biggest donor. The State Department memo referred to the 1985 Kemp-Kasten amendment, which prohibits foreign aid to organizations involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization, citing UNFPA’s work in China as evidence in support. As Devex’s Amy Lieberman reported, UNFPA has a China program but is not involved in abortion or sterilization work there. The decision — which follows similar moves by previous Republican administrations — affects about $69 million of funding a year and could lead to the closure of projects in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, among other countries. It had been widely anticipated by sexual and reproductive health NGOs, insiders told Devex, following the president’s re-enactment of the “global gag rule” in January. At the same time, WHO’s reclassification of progestogen-only injectable contraceptives, due to concerns about rates of HIV acquisition, has triggered a critical debate in the family planning community about how to manage the risks, Andrew Green reported for Devex.

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