Peace Corps cuts, Trump's coal push and Gates' big gift: This week in development

Bill Gates, co-chair at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo by: Amanda Benson / CC BY-NC-ND

Bill Gates makes his largest-ever donation, experts debate the Trump administration’s coal push, and Sierra Leone confronts a new tragedy. This week in development.

A burning question: The Trump administration wants development banks to finance more coal projects, but that doesn’t mean they will. Devex’s Sophie Edwards spoke with development finance experts on both sides of the coal debate. Supporters of President Donald Trump’s order to overturn Obama administration guidance that made U.S. support for international coal projects very difficult argue coal is a pro-poor energy option that can also create American jobs. Others see more flash than substance in Trump’s order. Even some of the world’s biggest coal consumers — such as India — are moving on to non-fossil fuel choices, raising doubts that institutions, including the World Bank, would ever see enough demand for coal finance to revive a declining fuel source.

For the record: “They [the Trump administration] want to be seen as supporting the coal industry even though they’re not doing anything which could actually revive it … [and] they want to be seen to be undoing steps that the Obama administration took.” — Steve Herz, senior international policy advisor at the Sierra Club

Sierra Leone’s tragedy: At least 400 people are dead after lethal flooding and landslides ripped through Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown on Monday. Responders and relief organizations including the Red Cross searched for survivors among the flooded streets and ruined buildings, but have also struggled to accommodate an overwhelming number of recovered bodies. Officials had previously expressed concerns about residents building in precarious locations against government regulations.

For the record: “I just want to see them for the last time, even if they won’t let me take their bodies away.” — Mary Sesay, who lost a sister and two brothers in the disaster

‘Sunsetting’ and ‘rightsizing’: The Peace Corps will eliminate 200 of its 900 U.S.-based positions over the next three years, according to a report from Government Executive. According to an internal memo from Acting Director Sheila Crowley, the U.S. development organization is making the cuts in response to President Trump’s 2018 budget request — which included a 3 percent reduction — and a directive from the Office of Management and Budget for federal agencies to take “immediate actions to achieve near-term workforce reductions.” The Peace Corps does not currently plan to cut any current employees — though they would not rule it out — but will instead “sunset” roughly 20 percent of its domestic positions once employees in those spots reach their five-year term limit.

For the record: “We understand that this will be challenging and I deeply appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we work through these difficult decisions and develop processes to ensure effective operations.” — Sheila Crowley, acting director of the Peace Corps

A billion here, a billion there: Bill Gates quietly made his largest-ever donation to the Gates Foundation earlier this summer — a gift of 64 million shares in Microsoft, currently worth more than $4.5 billion. Spending roughly $3 billion every year and with an endowment around $45 billion, the Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world. It is also required to expend all of its resources within 20 years of Bill and Melinda Gates’ death. Gates also launched a new malaria bed net giveaway campaign with World Vision, for every visitor to his Gates Notes blog about malaria progress.

For the record: “All you have to do is click the link below, read a short article about the remarkable progress being made to reduce malaria deaths, and answer a one-question quiz … Saving lives doesn’t get any easier than that.” — Bill Gates, chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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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.