Peace Corps Vietnam and the World Humanitarian Summit: This week in development news

By Michael Igoe 26 May 2016

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the closing ceremony of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / United Nations

U.S. President Barack Obama appeals to Vietnam’s future leaders. The humanitarian community asks, “just how grand was the ‘grand bargain’?” And more overcrowded fishing boats capsize in the Mediterranean. This week in development news.

The World Humanitarian Summit is over, but questions about what it accomplished, and what happens next to reform a broke — or broken? — system still remain. Among the big headliners of the first-ever gathering in Istanbul was a new “grand bargain.” This highly touted agreement among over two-dozen donors has received mixed reviews. It advances 51 commitments that aim to cut costs, improve transparency, and increase efficiency in the delivery of humanitarian relief, but some critics say it lacks specificity and benchmarks. That could have something to do with who was at the table — namely, very few heads of state from major donor countries, an absence United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called, “disappointing.” The summit saw renewed calls for cash to play a greater role in relief operations — as opposed to supplies and food aid — and a pronounced private sector interest in contributing to a better functioning humanitarian system. Stressing the importance of the summit, on Wednesday video showed a fishing boat carrying over 500 prospective migrants capsize off the coast of Libya. Five were found dead.

Obama visited Vietnam this week to further crystallize a “normal” relationship between two countries last at war with each other in 1975. As the Obama administration repeatedly pointed out, two-thirds of the current Vietnamese population was born after the war ended. In recent years the U.S. Agency for International Development has been involved in efforts to make amends for the negative impacts of the military defoliant “Agent Orange.” Youth exchange, training and education played a central role in the visit. Obama announced that the Peace Corps will send volunteers to Vietnam for the first time, with a focus on teaching English. He also launched the Fulbright University Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s first independent, nonprofit university. And Obama participated in what seems to be one of his favorite activities, a town hall with members of the State Department’s Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative — YSEALI — where he told the crowd the renewed partnership includes, “addressing areas where our governments disagree, including on human rights.”

The World Health Organization’s role in protecting against and responding to pandemic threats such as Ebola and Zika dominated discussions at this week’s World Health Assembly in Geneva. The WHO is putting in place a new health emergencies program in response to global criticism and calls by the WHO’s executive board to strengthen its emergency capabilities, Devex’s Jenny Ravelo reports. The WHO’s new program arrives at the same time the World Bank has officially announced its new Pandemic Emergency Facility, to provide emergency assistance and insurance in the event of global health emergencies. Both announcements, while still just emerging, stand in contrast to a paralyzed budget battle on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where lawmakers have so far refused to fund the White House’s request for $1.9 billion to combat the Zika outbreak.

Cyclone Roanu battered Bangladesh and Sri Lanka this week. Many are praising Bangladesh’s improved early warning and response efforts for saving lives. Roughly half a million people were relocated in advance of the storm, many to cyclone shelters — which also double as schools. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has reported $2 billion worth of damage and has appealed for foreign aid to help it recover. At least 120 people have been reported to be killed in the storm.

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About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.

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