Global Goals Week 2018, Trump's aid review, and awkward questions for UNEP: This week in development

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivers his remarks during the opening of the general debate of 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly. Photo by: Cia Pak / U.N.

Noncommunicable diseases, tuberculosis, and Trump top the Global Goals Week highlights, the U.N.’s environment chief is in the hot seat over travel costs, and development finance takes a big step forward in the U.S. This week in development:

The United Nations General Assembly is one of the busiest weeks on the global development calendar. While world leaders and diplomats inside the U.N. presented their positions on a long list of issues, an array of splashy side events, policy breakfasts, award dinners, and plenaries turned midtown Manhattan into a moveable feast of development highlights — moveable, so long as you weren’t trying to drive anywhere.

Two pressing global health issues shared the spotlight at the U.N. General Assembly. High-level meetings, plus back-to-back side events across New York City, centered on tuberculosis and noncommunicable diseases. NCDs — primarily cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases — account for more than 70 percent of global deaths, while TB claimed an estimated 1.6 million lives in 2017. U.N. chief António Guterres told Devex last week that NCDs might not be as "sensational" as other health crises, but they need to be addressed if governments seek to build, or retain, strong national health systems. Civil society organizations and advocates questioned the impact of the two non-legally binding agreements that governments signed on TB and NCDs, arguing that more work is needed to hold leaders accountable to their commitments.

True to his billing, U.S. President Donald Trump provided the most intrigue — as well as the longest security freezes while his motorcade swept past. While Trump’s speech to the General Assembly only touched briefly on development, it alluded to an issue that has concerned U.S. foreign aid experts for several weeks. Trump described an effort — now led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — to ensure that America’s foreign assistance dollars only go to friendly nations. That effort is an ongoing foreign assistance review, which many have feared could marginalize the U.S. Agency for International Development’s expertise and analysis. Devex spoke to USAID Administrator Mark Green, who expressed confidence that his relationship with Pompeo would see USAID’s views incorporated into the process. “I know that I will have a chance to talk with him, show him what it is we’re doing, and I trust his judgement,” Green said. Read more Devex coverage from UNGA.

Sweden and Denmark have decided to withhold funding from the U.N. Environment Programme due to concerns over the travel expenses of its executive director, Erik Solheim. Solheim spent $488,518 in 22 months and was traveling 80 percent of the time, according to a draft internal audit obtained by Aftenposten. Solheim has now been forced to leave UNGA early and return to UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi, the Guardian reported on Thursday. The UNEP chief has blamed apparent violations of the U.N.’s travel protocols on onerous bureaucratic hurdles, and has argued that extensive travel is critical to his job.

India’s supreme court ruled that the country’s digital ID system, Aadhaar, may remain in place and does not violate the constitution — but placed restrictions on the uses for which Aadhaar’s digital ID system can be required. “We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater,” wrote the chief justice who issued the ruling. The case represents the latest entry in an ongoing debate about what constitutes “good digital identity,” and how to ensure that national ID systems can be built at large scale, but without creating a massive surveillance system, wrote Devex Senior Reporter Catherine Cheney.

The BUILD Act, after being stalled by objections from several senators, is poised to become law. It was attached to a separate bill that reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration, which passed the House on Wednesday. Because the FAA bill must pass both chambers by the end of the month, it is also expected to be approved by the Senate this week. The BUILD Act, which the White House supports, would combine the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development Credit Authority. The new U.S. development finance institution would have a $60 billion spending cap and the ability to make equity investments.

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.