Patel steps down at DFID, COP23 kicks off in Bonn, and UN sounds alarm on famine in Yemen: This week in development

Mark Lowcock, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Photo by: Mark Garten / U.N.

Code of conduct concerns shake up British aid leadership, the Yemen crisis grows more severe as humanitarian supplies are kept out, and climate talks are underway in Bonn, Germany. This week in development.

Priti Patel stepped down as U.K. secretary of state for international development, and Penny Mordaunt, a member of Parliament and former Royal Naval reservist, was appointed to lead the Department for International Development. Patel, who had held the post since July 2016, resigned following revelations she may have breached the ministerial code of conduct by holding unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials during a holiday to the country in August. She subsequently asked DFID staff to explore cooperation with the Israeli aid agency and army, as the BBC reported. Experts expressed concerns that the scandal and Patel’s departure could compromise DFID’s reputation, as well as its independence as a department and its budget — both of which have been under threat in recent years.

While the aid community officially welcomed Mordaunt as the new DFID head, some in the community expressed frustration that candidates such as Alistair Burt and Rory Stewart, who both have experience as DFID junior ministers and have demonstrated commitment to development, were overlooked. As a pro-Brexit, female MP, Mordaunt’s appointment helps Prime Minister May maintain the current political and gender balance within her cabinet.

The United Nations is warning that if humanitarian supplies aren’t immediately allowed into Yemen, the situation could become “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims,” said Mark Lowcock, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Entry points for all supplies into Yemen have been largely closed since November 6, when Saudi Arabia said that Houthi rebels lobbed a ballistic missile toward Riyadh International Airport. The security closure, however, has devastated aid groups’ ability to get supplies into the war-torn country, which is on the brink of famine. Halting supplies “puts hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” according to Justin Armstrong, Yemen head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières, which reported that its flights haven’t been allowed into the country for three days. Yemen imports about 90 percent of its food, and roughly 7 million people rely solely on humanitarian aid for survival.

The 23rd Conference of Parties — or COP23 — is underway in Bonn, Germany. Delegates from over 150 different countries are at work trying to build out a set of rules for how the historic Paris Agreement, forged two years ago at COP21, should be implemented. Some of the questions that need to be answered are about reporting, measuring emissions, transparency, and climate finance. These issues will not be settled by the end of this conference in Bonn, but this is seen as a crucial step to completing them by the end of 2018. One year ago, in Morocco, news of Donald Trump’s election victory shocked international climate activists and negotiators, and Trump’s disdain for the Paris Agreement and general skepticism of climate change still looms large in Germany. Delegates are worried about a potential “Trump effect,” which would see trust in this multilateral process erode and other countries follow the United States’ retreat from the negotiating table. So far, that has not happened, and a pared-down U.S. delegation continues to operate “as though nothing has changed,” one civil society observer told Devex. This could just be the calm before the storm. Next week these negotiations kick into high gear as they enter a “high-level” segment, during which heads of state and other dignitaries will make their positions known. Expect some fireworks.

The U.N. human rights office moved to tackle sexual harassment with a wide-ranging new policy where trained volunteer "first-responders" at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will serve as new point-people for colleagues who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse. The new policy, dubbed Dignity@Work, calls on confidential staffers to meet U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ call to do more to address sexual harassment and abuse, beyond the work of human resources and the two staff councils responsible for responding to abuse and harassment incidents. The move comes amid a push for a tougher examination of the issue in the development sector, after news emerged that seven Oxfam country directors were investigated in relation to “safeguarding allegations,” including sexual harassment, and that the charity handled 87 allegations of sexual exploitation by staff in 2016 and 2017. Devex talked to aid workers who said stories of sexual harassment emerging from the sector in recent weeks are likely “the tip of the iceberg." But they also expressed concern that negative media attention could discourage organizations from making it easier for staff to report abuse.

The “Paradise Papers” leak revealed details about how politicians, wealthy individuals, and multinational companies use “tax havens” and offshore activities to shelter their wealth — often at the expense of developing countries. This includes Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd.’s destruction of Indonesia’s forests to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations, and accusations that a Glencore subsidiary abused loopholes in Burkina Faso to avoid tax, exacerbating poverty and preventing the government from gaining more tax profit. Last month, Devex spoke with Abebe Aemro Selassie, head of the IMF’s African Department, about how developing countries can more efficiently tax foreign companies and crack down on tax evasion and avoidance.

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    Anne Paisley

    Anne Paisley is the Senior News Producer at Devex, where she oversees Devex’s newsletters, news website, and content management 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.