IFC immunity case, future of DFID, and Ebola center attacks in DRC: This week in development

A health worker walks past burned structures after attackers set fire to a Médecins Sans Frontières’ Ebola treatment center in the east Congolese town of Katwa. Photo by: Meinie Nicolai / MSF /Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Supreme Court rules IFC is not above the law, dual attacks against Ebola centers prompt MSF to rethink its strategy, and USAID Administrator Mark Green expands on ongoing reorganization, while the U.K. government reassures lawmakers of DFID's future. This week in development:

The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the case that pits Indian farmers and fishermen against the International Finance Corporation, ruling that the IFC is not above the law and challenging IFC’s claim of “absolute immunity.” The communities in Gujarat are suing the IFC for its support of the Tata Mundra Power Plant, claiming it contaminated groundwater, killed marine life, and ejected coal ash into the air. The IFC’s ombudsman, who is responsible for investigating alleged harm from projects, criticized the institution’s oversight and its efforts to mitigate social and environmental damage. The IFC is not contesting that the damage occurred, but is arguing that U.S. law makes the international organization immune from liability. The central battle in this case relates to how far that immunity extends, and the court’s decision could have wide-ranging implications for other international organizations. “This ruling is a sharp wake-up call to leadership at the International Finance Corporation and other multilateral institutions, that they must take accountability and the mechanisms set up to support that accountability seriously,” Oxfam International's Nadia Daar said in a press release.

Armed assailants attacked a Médecins Sans Frontières’ Ebola treatment center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday, which follows an attack last Sunday on a treatment center in the district of Katwa, the current epicenter of the epidemic. The dual attacks against MSF’s centers have prompted the organization to rethink its strategy in engaging the communities in the DRC. MSF emergency coordinator in Katwa, Emmanuel Massart, told Devex the attack in Katwa, where parts of MSF’s 70-bed facility were set on fire, is a clear indication that Ebola response actors, including MSF itself, failed to gain the trust of a significant part of the population. “If the response doesn’t manage to win the trust of the people affected by Ebola, it is impossible to care for patients, and impossible to contain the outbreak,” he said. MSF shut down its facility in Katwa. It’s unclear if it plans to do the same in its 90-bed facility in Butembo. The situation in both areas is critical, with Katwa currently registering the highest confirmed cases of Ebola at 231, as well as 173 deaths, according to statistics released Wednesday by the DRC Ministry of Health.

USAID Administrator Mark Green testified in a wide-ranging hearing that touched on the agency’s ongoing reorganization and West Bank and Gaza assistance. Green said he prefers to call USAID’s proposed internal changes a “transformation” rather than a reorganization, with the aim to have “an agency that is more field-focused than ever before and is more nimble than ever before.” While the structural changes are the most visible, Green said the implementation of new USAID policies is going to make a large difference. “In many ways it’s the …  ‘software’ of our changes — private sector engagement, procurement reform — [that] will I think have the longest lasting changes,” Green said. At the same hearing, Green said he would welcome the opportunity to work with Congress on any changes to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, or ATCA, which resulted in the termination of USAID funding to the West Bank and Gaza last month. ATCA, passed by Congress in 2018, stipulates that any foreign government that accepts certain types of foreign assistance from the U.S. is eligible to be prosecuted in U.S. courts for damages related to terrorism.

U.N. Security Council members clashed over the politicization of aid efforts in Venezuela during an emergency meeting this week at the U.N. Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela, called on members to “pressure the illegitimate regime to peacefully step down” and accused Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of preferring to “block and burn donated medicine and bread than see it in the hands of Venezuelan children.” Russia’s representative Vassily Nebenzia described U.S. aid efforts as “an attempted illegal state border crossing for the delivery of unknown cargo.” Rosemary DiCarlo, the political and peacebuilding chief at the U.N., warned of the “grim realities” facing Venezuela, where citizens are dying of preventable causes, 40 percent of medical staff have left the country, and hospital stocks of medicine have dwindled to 20 percent of the required level. Infant mortality has soared by roughly 50 percent during the crisis, and experts are also warning of an epidemic of diseases such as malaria and dengue on an unprecedented scale throughout Latin America.

The U.K. government has reassured lawmakers that it does not support a Conservative Party proposal to merge the Department for International Development with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Harriett Baldwin, joint minister of DFID and the FCO, gave the reassurance during a debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Earlier this week, DFID Secretary Penny Mordaunt wrote in a letter to Preet Gill — the Labour Party’s shadow minister for international development — that her department “could not … be described as ‘independent,’” and that she hoped to “move the debate about DFID on from being one about where our desks are situated to being focused on delivering the global goals.” Asked last week whether DFID would definitely exist in five years’ time, Mordaunt refrained from giving a categorical answer and added that it was “not an independent department” because of cross-government spending and cooperation.

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    Anne Paisley

    Anne Paisley is the Senior Manager of Editorial Planning and Production at Devex, where she oversees Devex’s newsletters, website, and editorial production team. Prior to joining Devex in 2015, Anne was the managing editor at the Center for American Progress. She has previously held positions at CNN, the U.S. Department of State, and Cambridge Associates. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and Asian studies from George Washington University, including a semester abroad at Peking University in Beijing.