Mercy Corps' abuse fallout, Trump's Syria withdrawal, and UN cash crisis: This week in development

U.S. and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria in September 2019. Photo by: U.S. Army / Spc. Alec Dionne / Handout via REUTERS

The Global Fund hits its replenishment target, Trump upends Syrian relief, and the United Nations confronts a cash crisis. This week in development:

Mercy Corps has been rocked by an investigation into allegations of serial sexual abuse committed by one of the humanitarian and development organization’s co-founders, Ellsworth Culver, who died in 2005. An extensive investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive detailed credible allegations brought by Culver’s daughter, Tania Culver Humphrey, who shared information about her father’s actions with Mercy Corps’ executives twice — first in 1992, and then again last year. Culver remained a celebrated figurehead of the organization until his death. On Tuesday Mercy Corps issued a statement in response to the investigation. “Had I known this information when I joined Mercy Corps as CEO in 1994, Ellsworth Culver would not have remained at the organization,” wrote Neal Keny-Guyer. “When Ms. Humphrey reached out to Mercy Corps in 2018, we had an opportunity to right a wrong. Instead, we failed her with our response,” he added. The organization plans to undertake an independent, external review into its handling of Humphrey’s outreach in 2018, and the board member who led the initial review in the 1990s has resigned in response to the story.

Humanitarian experts are warning of fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprising and opaque decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. The announcement paved the way for Turkey to engage in military operations in the area, and to create a so-called “safe zone,” to which many expect they will try to relocate Syrian refugees displaced by years of conflict that threatens to flare up once again. The International Rescue Committee estimated that a military offensive in northern Syria could displace 300,000 people and disrupt humanitarian services. The International Committee of the Red Cross called for the preservation of humanitarian space amid the new fighting and pointed to 100,000 people currently living in camps in northeastern Syria. A senior Trump administration official told reporters that “Turkey would bear full responsibility for any humanitarian issues or injuries to the civilians in the region and ... would need to make sure that they did everything they could to protect the local populations.” The idea of a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border is a misnomer, according to Jeremy Konyndyk, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. “‘Safe zone’ approaches are rarely an effective way to protect civilian populations, and if carried out poorly such zones can actually put a population in greater danger,” he wrote in a statement, adding that Turkey could use the plan as a “pretext” for expelling Syrian refugees currently inside Turkey.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria declared victory in its $14 billion fundraising push — with a little extra help from Bill Gates and France. This marks the largest replenishment of a multilateral health organization in history, according to the Global Fund’s leaders. Many of the Global Fund’s large donors increased their pledges in line with the 15% increase the institution sought to achieve, though the U.S. government’s pledge of $4.68 billion over three years is contained in proposed spending bills that still need to pass through the U.S. Congress. Now that the Global Fund has its budget picture for the next three years, the organization will begin a process for deciding how to allocate that money in the countries where it operates.

The United Nations is in the midst of a cash crisis that is requiring the body to take emergency cost-saving measures. The shortfall is a result of U.N. donor countries failing to make their contributions on time. Only 70% of the U.N. Secretariat’s 2019 budget has so far been funded, with $1.3 billion still outstanding for the organization’s operations this year. “Without cash, the budget cannot be properly implemented. For the current biannual, budget implementation is no longer being driven by program planning but by the availability of cash at hand,” Secretary-General António Guterres told member states on Tuesday. In response to the cash crunch, the U.N. Secretariat has restricted all travel “to the most essential trips only,” U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq told Devex in an email. It has also cut back on events, suggested that upcoming conferences could be postponed, and hinted that salaries and hiring could also be hit.

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.