Rescission uncertainty, Africa's polio milestone, and Brexit contingency plans: This week in development

Volunteer health officials at a school in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo by: REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde

Africa celebrates a hopeful health milestone, U.K. aid chief urges Brexit preparations, and Sierra Leone launches a blockchain digital identification platform. This week in development:

The U.S. aid community is hoping President Donald Trump will walk back plans to rescind billions of dollars in foreign aid funding. As recently as Monday, many expected the White House to put forward a rescission request targeting upward of $4 billion in funding already appropriated by Congress for a variety of U.S. aid programs and United Nations agencies. On Tuesday — the day the rescission proposal was expected to come forward — news outlets reported that Trump was scaling back the plan, in the face of criticism by lawmakers from both parties, and after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged him to reconsider. Trump has so far not offered a definitive statement about whether the rescission will move forward or not, but told reporters on Tuesday he will make the decision within a week. In the meantime, the largest alliance of international NGOs in the U.S. has decided not to pursue immediate legal action against the Trump administration — a step some have suggested in response to harm imposed by the potential funding rescission. “We might win the battle only to lose the war by pushing foreign aid into a high-profile social media storm that then really hurts our bipartisan approaches,” Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, wrote in an internal email obtained by Devex.

Africa has not seen a case of wild poliovirus in three years, raising hopes that the disease has been completely eradicated from the continent. Wednesday marked three years since the last four cases of wild poliovirus were seen in Borno State, Nigeria in 2016, an area where health access is hindered by the presence of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Health workers in Nigeria adapted their approach to immunization in order to overcome security challenges, including by vaccinating children during their visits to markets, scaling up efforts during lulls in the violence, and focusing on community surveillance. Now, experts from the World Health Organization’s Africa Regional Certification Commission will work to confirm that all 47 mainland African countries have in fact eradicated the virus. So far, 41 countries have been certified, with Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, South Africa, South Sudan, and Equatorial Guinea still remaining, according to Dr. Pascal Mkanda, coordinator of the WHO Polio Eradication Programme.

The new U.K. aid chief is urging British NGOs to take up the government’s offer to underwrite their contracts with the European Union in the event a no-deal Brexit results in a sudden loss of funding. Secretary of State for the Department for International Development Alok Sharma, who took over last month, wrote to DFID’s NGO partners on Friday, and reiterated that they should apply for the funding guarantee by Oct. 31, the date on which U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country will leave the EU with or without a deal. “This is to prevent any loss of funding to deliver vital programmes,” Sharma wrote. Civil society groups remain frustrated with a lack of information from the government about how they are planning for a potential no-deal Brexit, and with a lack of opportunity to share their perspectives on the consequences of such an outcome. Sharma also addressed reports of EU discrimination against working with British NGOs, writing that he will, “continue to monitor the situation closely.”

The government of Sierra Leone launched what it calls, “Africa’s first blockchain and decentralized digital identity implementation” on Wednesday. The new national platform is aimed at helping citizens obtain formal identification, control their credit, and access financial services. It was developed with support from Kiva, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that allows people to lend money to low-income people around the world, and runs on the Kiva Protocol, a digital identification system that uses the distributed ledger technology known as blockchain. There are still a number of unanswered questions about how the project will function, Catherine Cheney reported for Devex, including, “whether Kiva will treat citizens of Sierra Leone as users or beneficiaries or a hybrid of both, and what assumptions the organization will make about their capacity to manage their own digital identity.”

About the author

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    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.