Funding and personnel cuts drive U.S. global health security concerns, U.K. aid groups face new reporting requirements, and Australia’s new aid budget underwhelms. This week in development:
The Trump administration proposes eliminating about $250 million in Ebola funding even as the World Health Organization declared a new outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The administration sent a rescission package to Congress Tuesday that targeted unobligated balances, or unspent funds, including $252 million of the $470 million that remains from the emergency funding Congress allocated to Ebola response in 2015. According to the rescission document, the funds “are no longer needed because the Ebola response has largely concluded. Enacting the rescission would therefore not impact the Ebola response.” Congress will have to decide if those funds should remain available. The new outbreak in the DRC is in Bikoro and thus far there are two confirmed cases — although in the past five weeks, there have been 21 suspected cases of viral hemorrhagic fever, including 17 deaths, according to the WHO. The WHO has released $1 million from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies to support the response, which it is coordinating with the government of the DRC and a number of partners. The money the Trump administration is proposing to return to the U.S. Treasury could likely be used in the response. Also this week, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the head of global health security on the White House’s National Security Council left his job, further raising concerns.
On Tuesday the White House announced a “comprehensive review” of U.S. assistance to South Sudan, citing the failure of the country’s political leaders to fulfill their partnership obligations and bring an end to civil war. “While we are committed to saving lives, we must also ensure our assistance does not contribute to or prolong the conflict, or facilitate predatory or corrupt behavior,” the White House press secretary wrote in a statement. In response, Ciarán Donnelly, senior vice president of international programs at the International Rescue Committee, urged that the U.S. government “use this review as an opportunity to recommit to the people of South Sudan by affirming that life-saving humanitarian assistance, delivered by credible international partners, will not be affected by the review.” While the seven-year-old country has been torn apart by political rivalry and plunged into a food security crisis, more than half of its civilian population is dependent on humanitarian assistance. “The only way to ease the suffering of the South Sudanese people is to end this conflict. Cutting humanitarian assistance will not hasten an end to war — it will only lead to further suffering and certain, yet preventable, death of South Sudan’s most vulnerable,” Donnelly wrote.
As midyear climate change negotiations conclude Thursday in Bonn, Germany, politicians, civil society groups, and development professionals are taking stock of a daunting amount of work left to do to make the Paris climate agreement operational. This year negotiators are primarily focused on agreeing to a “rulebook” for implementing the historic agreement — a complex and technical task that must be completed by the end of the Conference of Parties meeting in Katowice, Poland, in December. While observers report that negotiators made reasonable progress on the technical details of that rulebook, they are also warning that remaining issues‚ including perennial questions around financing for developing countries, will require strong political leadership. “The radio silence on money has sown fears among poor countries that their wealthier counterparts are not serious about honoring their promises. This funding is not just a bargaining chip, it is essential for delivering the national plans that make up the Paris agreement,” said Mohamed Adow, international climate lead at Christian Aid, in a statement.
Aid groups in the United Kingdom will be asked to report on how much they are spending on safeguarding against sexual harassment and abuse, Molly Anders reported for Devex. The new requirements come at the request of the United Kingdom’s International Development Committee, but the reporting will be done through two NGO membership organizations, Bond for International Development and the Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance, which count more than 500 organizations among their ranks. While many agree the abuse scandals that have rocked the U.K. aid community in recent months demand a comprehensive and systematic response, some caution that budget lines paint an incomplete picture of what abuse prevention requires. Caroline Nursey, chair of the board for Bond, also pointed out that there has been a tendency in the wake of these revelations to conflate workplace sexual harassment with the exploitation of aid beneficiaries, Anders reported. These “related but different sets of issues” might not be covered under the same organizational budget line, so oversight bodies will have to ensure that both receive adequate attention.
Australia’s aid budget for the 2018-19 financial year will see a slight boost, but continues to disappoint development advocates who charge that the nation should be spending more. “It’s a C-minus effort,” Marc Purcell, CEO of the Australian Council for International Development, told Devex reporter Lisa Cornish. “Despite years of economic growth, this budget has Australia hanging out with Greece and Hungary in OECD rankings.” Papua New Guinea emerges as a winner in the new budget, seeing a 10 percent increase in its assistance. Longer term projections of Australian aid spending remain dim, however. The country is expected to spend $4 billion on foreign assistance in the 2021-22 financial year, the lowest level ever and just 0.19 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.