Politics plague MCC, Ebola strikes again, and Indian farmers take on World Bank immunity: This week in development

An Ebola medical worker. Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The Millennium Challenge Corporation becomes a political battleground, Ebola strikes again, and the United Nations chief warns of financial trouble. This week in development.

The United States government has weighed in on a U.S. Supreme Court case that pits farmers and fishermen from Gujarat, India, against the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group. These communities are suing the IFC for its support of the Tata Mundra Power Plant, which they say has contaminated groundwater, killed marine life, and ejected coal ash into the air. The IFC’s ombudsman, responsible for investigating alleged harm from projects, also criticized the institution’s oversight of the project and its efforts to mitigate social and environmental damage. The IFC is not contesting that the damage occurred, but is arguing that U.S. law makes the international organization immune from liability. The central battle in this case relates to how far that immunity extends — and a question about what counts as “commercial activity.” The court’s decision could have wide-ranging implications for other international organizations. On Tuesday the U.S. government weighed in with a brief that challenges the claim of “absolute immunity,” a position welcomed by the plaintiffs from Gujarat.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation has seen development professionals replaced with Trump administration loyalists, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. The Trump White House has taken charge of a larger number of appointments to the small development agency than in past administrations, filling its ranks with political appointees with connections to the Trump campaign and Republican party, according to the report. The administration’s use of a special hiring authority — which was created to help MCC’s CEO appoint technical experts — has raised concerns about the politicization of an agency typically regarded as technocratic and bipartisan. “Congress gave MCC special hiring authority so that it could operate with efficiency and effectiveness, not so that it could become a dumping ground for unqualified partisan loyalists and lackeys,” Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey told the Post.

The Ebola virus has struck the Democratic Republic of Congo again, just a week after the country declared an end to its previous outbreak. At least 20 people have died in North Kivu province, while 26 suspected cases have been referred to the Ministry of Health. While health leaders celebrated the successful containment and suppression of Ebola in the northwest portion of the country, they warned that fighting the new outbreak posed additional challenges. “This cluster of Ebola cases is occurring in an environment which is very different from where we were operating in the northwest of DRC. It is an active conflict zone. The major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population,” Peter Salama, deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response at the World Health Organization, wrote on Twitter.

The deadly collapse of a hydropower dam in Laos has raised questions about how to ensure developers follow safety protocols throughout the lifespan of a project, from construction to operation. “The tragic events in Laos indicate a risk that systems developed for individual dam projects may be either inadequate to respond to an emergency situation like this one, or are not being properly implemented,” Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, told Devex. The collapse and flooding has forced thousands from their homes and killed at least 27 people — with many more still missing. It has also prompted renewed concerns about the fast pace of hydropower development in Southeast Asia. “There needs to be a broader assessment of less destructive alternatives to large hydropower projects for energy and revenue generation and serious consideration given to alternatives in energy and development planning,” Harris said.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is warning that member countries’ record-low annual contributions to the U.N. will have implications for the international body’s operations. “Our cash flow has never been this low so early in the calendar year, and the broader trend is also concerning: We are running out of cash sooner and staying in the red longer,” Guterres wrote in a July 25 letter seen by Devex. The U.N. chief said that he will focus on reducing “non-staff costs,” while working with member states to shore up the U.N.’s financial health.

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.