Ebola hits Goma, DFID faces uncertainty, and UNRWA in the spotlight: This week in development

A health worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance at a health center in Goma. Photo by: REUTERS / Djaffer Sabiti

The Ebola outbreak enters its second year, U.K. aid braces for an uncertain future, and the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency faces questions. This week in development:

The city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo reported its third case of Ebola on Thursday, as the current outbreak — the second largest in history — now enters its second year. Goma is a city of roughly 2 million, which serves as the capital of North Kivu and a major transit hub on the border with Rwanda. The government of Rwanda reportedly closed the border on Thursday out of concern the disease could spread, only to reopen it hours later. This third case represents the first locally transmitted case of Ebola in Goma. The patient is the 1-year-old daughter of an Ebola patient who died on Wednesday, after contracting the virus outside of the city. One year after DRC’s Ministry of Health declared an Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, health responders are taking stock of the international effort to contain the virus — and grappling with how the response effort needs to change in light of the “exponential growth” of the outbreak in recent months.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s appointment of Alok Sharma as the Department for International Development’s new secretary of state should not make aid advocates complacent about the department’s future, according to experts who spoke to Devex. While many feared that Johnson might seek to eliminate DFID or merge it into the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, they breathed a sigh of relief when he named the department’s new leader last week. Still, many in the U.K. aid community fear that Johnson is simply preoccupied with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and that at some point, he could turn his attention to reshaping — or reducing — the country’s development agency. Johnson’s leadership could see DFID’s control over Britain’s official development assistance budgets continue to erode, according to one former official. “The department is in a particularly vulnerable spot with an inexperienced ministerial team facing fierce opponents in other departments … [who will be] champing at the bit to get more DFID money,” the former official warned.

The United Nations oversight body is looking into allegations that leadership at the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency abused their authority for personal gain. The allegations are detailed in an internal, confidential report, which was obtained by Al Jazeera. Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, who is one of the people facing allegations, told Al Jazeera he rejects the characterization of the agency’s leadership team, and said, “We should be judged on the findings of the independent investigation not on allegations, rumors or fabrications.” The probe comes at the same time UNRWA is battling a funding crisis brought on by the Trump administration’s decision to drastically reduce — and then entirely eliminate — U.S. contributions to the U.N. agency. The 10-page report contains "credible and corroborated reports" from current and former UNRWA employees, who allege that an "inner circle" of UNRWA leaders "have engaged in misconduct, nepotism, retaliation ... and other abuses of authority.” The report alleges that this inner circle used the funding crisis in 2018 as an excuse to concentrate power, while disregarding the agency’s rules and procedures, leading to an “exodus of senior and other staff.” On Thursday, Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters that he will wait for the results of the inquiry before taking any action, and that questions about UNRWA’s management should be separated from the overarching message that the agency should be preserved and strengthened in the face of ongoing political pressure.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed alarming new data about rapidly increasing rates of Amazon deforestation during his administration. With five days still remaining in July, the National Institute for Space Research’s Deter B satellite system reported that the Amazon rainforest had seen a record 1,345 sq km already cleared during the month — a third higher than the previous monthly record reported by the monitoring system, which was created in 2015. The rate of deforestation has accelerated to the equivalent of more than three football fields a minute, according to the Guardian. Bolsonaro’s timber and mining-friendly policies are seen as largely to blame for the rapid deterioration of an ecosystem considered vital to preventing dangerous climate change. Bolsonaro has effectively put Brazil’s environmental agency under the supervision of the agricultural ministry, according to the Guardian, and his foreign minister believes climate science to be part of a global Marxist plot.

About the author

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    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.