Megastorms, cease-fires and the meaning of ODA: This week in development news

By Michael Igoe 25 February 2016

Syrian refugees in Gevgelija, Macedonia, rush to catch the train that will take them to the northern border with Serbia. Will the Syrian cease-fire take effect this weekend? Photo by: Caroline Haga / IFRC / CC BY-NC-ND

From South Pacific megastorms to Middle Eastern crises, it’s a turbulent time for aid and development. Bill Gates has his head in the sky, while the United Nation’s climate change chief looks for new ground. This week in development news.

ODA and shades of gray

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states agreed to a new definition of “official development assistance,” and not everyone is thrilled about it. The new definition allows countries to count some “peace and security” spending as development assistance, provided it furthers objectives in fragile states — such as countering violent extremism. It’s still unclear how the new definition relates to ongoing questions about whether — and to what extent — countries can spend ODA on internal refugee resettlement programs.

High stakes in Syria

If everything goes according to plan, a cease-fire brokered by Russia and the United States will take effect in Syria on Feb. 27. Unfortunately, this is Syria … and Russia and the United States. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the stakes pretty bluntly in his congressional testimony: “I can’t sit here and tell you I know this is going to work, but I know this: If it doesn’t work, the potential is there that Syria will be utterly destroyed, that Europe will be flooded with even more migrants … that the unrest and dislocation will become even worse than what is already the greatest humanitarian challenge since World War II.”

Meet the new boss ...

Running unopposed, Christine Lagarde succeeded in securing a second term as managing director of the International Monetary Fund. The former French finance minister — and the first female IMF chief — was widely expected to lock down another five-year term after several of the most influential European IMF members voiced their support for her candidacy. Lagarde’s second term could see developing countries assume greater influence at the institution, now that long-sought quota reforms are taking effect.

Winston cripples Fiji

The worst storm to ever hit Fiji, and one of the strongest storms ever in the Southern Hemisphere, has forced islanders to evacuation centers and foreign aid to flow from Asia Pacific’s biggest donors. While the storm’s last minute course change spared the Fijian capital Suva, much of the island faces “catastrophic” damage. The Fijian government has appealed for relief donations, and set up bank accounts to accept them. Small island states are also pointing to the storm as an example of what climate change will bring and are rallying for more adaptation finance to prepare themselves.

Accepting applications: The weight of the world

With the Paris climate agreement under her belt, Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, announced she will step down in July when her current term ends. Her successor, who will be appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will be tasked with pressing countries to uphold and strengthen their voluntary climate commitments — a challenging task with no explicit enforcement mechanisms.

More time! More energy!

Bill and Melinda Gates invited high schoolers to imagine the philanthropic duo as superheroes in their annual letter this year, in which they described the "two superpowers we wish we had." Bill makes the case for “more energy,” for himself but mostly for the developing world. Melinda champions “more time” — as in for women who disproportionately spend their time on unpaid work. The letter’s cover video allows readers to see what it would be like to fly through the clouds while wearing a button-down shirt.

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About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.


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