News from Davos, UK counterterrorism bill, and WHO's board meeting: This week in development

The World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by: Eric Bridiers / U.S. Mission Geneva / CC BY-ND

World Health Organization leaders and stakeholders spar in Geneva, NGOs face tough choices in Burundi, and U.K. aid groups celebrate a legal win. This week in development:

Global political, business, and NGO leaders in Davos are fighting to shift the spotlight from crisis to opportunity. While America’s absence, criticisms of the global elite, and concerns about the future of multilateral cooperation have garnered most of the attention, Davos continues to bolster its reputation as a place where new ideas and initiatives are born. This year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum has seen a $260 million commitment to support mental health in lower-income countries, a new social impact bond for refugee employment — with $7.7 million in initial support from the Ikea Foundation — the official launch of a high-level group on humanitarian investing, and a new organization aimed at improving impact measurement for investors. Meanwhile, powerhouses such as Bill Gates are making the investment case for global health funds that require replenishment. Sign up here for a wrap-up newsletter from the conference, including how leaders from the global development community, the private sector, and governments are coming together around the theme of making globalization work for all in this era of rapid technological change.

British NGOs and aid groups are celebrating a legal victory, after the U.K. Parliament agreed Tuesday to include an exemption in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which will allow them to continue operating in restricted countries and areas without the threat of prosecution. The bill would make it a criminal offense for British nationals to enter or remain in designated countries and regions unless they can provide a “reasonable excuse” for being there, Jessica Abrahams reported for Devex. Aid advocates worried that under a previous version of the bill, they would only be able to present a “reasonable excuse” after they had already been arrested. NGO advocates engaged in an extensive effort to carve out the exemptions, although some still hope to see specific provisions included for those engaged in peacekeeping efforts.

The World Health Organization’s executive board is meeting for its 144th session in Geneva, where the global body is tackling issues around drug pricing, civil society participation, and fundraising, Jenny Lei Ravelo reported for Devex. WHO is calling for more transparency around health product research and development, particularly for cancer treatments, in an effort to clarify how drug companies determine the price of their medicines. In a recent report on cancer medicines, WHO argued that prices are “significantly above the risk-adjusted costs of R&D estimated in the literature.” WHO is facing some pushback on its plan to restructure civil society participation in its decision-making processes. Some groups have taken issue with a proposal for nonstate actors to speak in clusters, while limiting the number of opportunities for them to speak during executive board meetings and the World Health Assembly. Finally, WHO is kickstarting its push to raise $14.1 billion over the next five years, at a time when numerous global health and development initiatives are also seeking replenishment.

Development organizations in Burundi are grappling with how to respond to government demands that they report the ethnic breakdown of their staff. Several groups have opted to leave the country, rather than comply with the government’s demand, Vince Chadwick and Christin Roby reported for Devex. In October Burundi’s government froze all international NGO activity for three months and said that organizations must adopt a range of changes or face deregistration. The demand for data about employees’ ethnicity is part of an effort to enforce a 2017 law requiring that INGOs’ local staff represent a ratio of 60 percent Hutus and 40 percent Tutsis. “We’re getting closer and closer to the limit where normal cooperation stops and the only actions available are humanitarian actions,” a European diplomat told Devex.

Earlier this month, U.K. Member of Parliament Boris Johnson resurfaced a recurring debate about whether the U.K. Department for International Development ought to be absorbed by the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “We can’t keep spending huge sums of money as though we were some Scandinavian NGO,” Johnson told the Financial Times. Writing for Devex, Abby Young-Powell examined the arguments for and against drawing a closer relationship between Britain’s foreign affairs and global development bodies. Development experts largely rejected the notion that a merger would lead to more effective development programs, considering that DFID consistently outperforms FCO on effectiveness and transparency indicators. They also questioned the motivations that would drive such a change. While advocates often claim it would enhance policy coherence and efficiency, the merger push usually seems to result from political calculations, Ian Mitchell, senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told Devex. While current political dynamics in the U.K. don’t point to an imminent merge of DFID and FCO, Mitchell said that, “had the Conservatives come back with a big majority [in the 2017 general election] ... we suspected they might have seriously considered merging the departments.”

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.