Obama's budget and Facebook's Indian stumble: This week in development news

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive officer. Indian regulators ruled to prohibit selective Internet services like “Free Basics,” the Facebook-approved Internet access platform Zuckerberg hoped Indians would love. Photo by: Josh Lowensohn / CC BY-NC-ND

From budget battles in Washington, D.C. to real battles in Aleppo, there are global development fights on multiple fronts. Here are the week’s big stories:

Obama’s aid budget winners and losers

President Barack Obama released his 2017 budget proposal Tuesday, but the U.S. Congress doesn’t even want to hear about it. The president’s budget request for foreign affairs confirmed that U.S. aid partners shouldn’t expect to see any major development assistance increases — except in a few lucky areas like climate change, countering violent extremism, and malaria. The president also asked Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funds to respond to the Zika virus outbreak, which will be split between preparedness at home, research and assistance to affected countries.

Who could possibly be against this

Despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s impassioned lobbying, Indian regulators ruled to prohibit selective Internet services like “Free Basics,” the Facebook-approved Internet access platform Zuckerberg hoped Indians would love. In a full-page editorial in the Indian press, Zuckerberg famously asked, “Who could possible be against this?” Zuckerberg and Facebook argued Free Basics offers a gateway option to broader browsing. Critics in India said the free platform gave Facebook too much power over what people could see and do online, with some going so far as alluding to a new version of digital colonialism.

El Niño leaves hunger in its wake

El Niño, the global weather pattern resulting from above-average Pacific Ocean temperatures, is wreaking havoc on food systems in southern Africa, where tens of millions now face food insecurity due to intensifying drought conditions. Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency, in hopes that the World Food Program and other donor agencies will ramp up food assistance, while South Africa has so far declined to take that step despite a failing maize crop. In Ethiopia, Save the Children has classified the emergency as a “category 1,” the same as the Syrian crisis.

A damper on U.S. climate leadership

President Obama’s clean power plan, a key element of the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate agreement, hit what’s either a temporary roadblock or a major setback this week, when the U.S. Supreme Court halted implementation of the plan until certain legal challenges are resolved. The court’s ruling puts a damper on U.S. “leadership” towards global climate cooperation, though it will not obstruct U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, for which Obama has requested $750 million next year. It remains to be seen whether the ruling could have an impact on the U.S. “intended nationally determined contribution” to climate action, the national plan to drive climate mitigation and adaptation until 2025.

Syria goes from bad to worse

With the Syria donors conference in the rearview mirror, world leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, are in Munich this week to try to revive peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel forces — and create a humanitarian corridor so that aid can reach the besieged city of Aleppo. A renewed government offensive, backed by Russian bomb strikes, threatens to cut off Aleppo’s residents from escape routes to Turkey, at the same time as the military assault could drive more people out of their homes.

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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.