Photo by: Sandra Blaser / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

China takes extraordinary health security measures, the International Court of Justice hands down a ruling to Myanmar, and the U.K.’s approach to African investment draws criticism. This week in development:

The World Economic Forum is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Davos, Switzerland, amid difficult questions about the role that the global gathering of business, political, and civil society leaders can play in tackling urgent challenges. On the positive side, it can point to Gavi, the public-private partnership for vaccination, which formed at Davos two decades ago and is pushing for replenishment in 2020. Climate change tops this year’s agenda, offering another installment of the messaging battle between 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg and U.S. President Donald Trump. Thunberg took aim at the gap between the rhetoric espoused by those in attendance and the actions they have proven willing — or unwilling — to take. Trump, in his plenary speech, referred to climate scientists as “perennial prophets of doom” and claimed a record of environmental leadership — signing on to the WEF’s initiative to restore, conserve, and plant 1 trillion trees as proof. In other venues and hotel ballrooms, Davos attendees tackled challenges around corporate leadership for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and financing for development and health — with new efforts including the launch of the largest impact fund for smallholder farmer finance.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled Thursday that the government of Myanmar must “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide against the Rohingya. While the decision lacks any enforcement power, it represents the first international court ruling against Myanmar over the issue — and a rejection of the arguments presented at The Hague in December by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who defended the military against accusations that it committed atrocities amounting to genocide against the Muslim ethnic minority group. The accusations were brought to the tribunal by the nation of Gambia, a party to the U.N. Genocide Convention. While this week’s ruling did not resolve whether genocide occurred — a decision that could take years — the world court did find in favor of a request by the Gambian legal team for more immediate action to hold Myanmar responsible for preventing additional atrocities. The court ordered Myanmar to report back within four months on steps it has taken to ensure the Rohingya are kept safe and not subjected to acts of genocide. Rohingya advocates called on governments to apply pressure to help back up the ruling.

The U.K. Department for International Development is taking heat for sponsoring a high-profile U.K.-Africa Investment Summit that critics say had little to do with alleviating poverty and failed to include African civil society. The summit, hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and attended by heads of state from 21 African nations, saw some big-ticket announcements — including a two-year, $2.6 billion commitment from the U.K. government's development finance institution to invest in Africa. Some development leaders welcomed a conference signaling the importance of U.K.-Africa economic ties during a period of transition. “Brexit is round the corner; if one of the first things the government does is organize a conference centered on Africa then it seeks to underline how important this relationship is,” said economist and Gavi board member Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Others were less enthusiastic. NGO representatives held a protest outside the summit venue, decrying the use of official development assistance funds — $19.5 million from DFID’s budget — for an event that included oil and gas industry representatives and high-level government officials but few civil society leaders from the African continent. “The betterment of these economies has an impact on the citizens of Africa, so it's a little bit strange … that representation of the citizenry is not at the table,” said Crystal Simeoni, head of advocacy and economic justice at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

China has instituted travel bans on cities affected by the outbreak of a new coronavirus, which has infected 637 people and killed 17 as of Thursday. Travelers infected with the virus, which causes pneumonia symptoms, have been found in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, and the U.S. The World Health Organization’s emergency committee did not reach a decision in its initial meeting Wednesday about whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. “The situation with new #coronavirus is evolving and complex. For that reason, I have decided to ask the Emergency Committee to meet again tomorrow to continue their discussion,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, tweeted Wednesday. Devex will continue to provide updates as the situation evolves.

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.