Syrian humanitarian needs persist and Venezuela protests mount: This week in development news

Protesters in Altamira Square, Venezuela against the Nicolas Maduro government. Photo by: Wilfredorrh / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Following U.S. airstrikes in Syria last week, millions remain cut off from vital humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, protests in Venezuela heat up and the OECD reports that aid reached a record high in 2016. This week in development news.

In the week after the U.S. struck Syria in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons, ongoing government and allied airstrikes have continued unabated in civilian areas. Some 13.5 million people inside Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 5.7 million of them in dire need. Yet large swathes of the country and about 4.7 million people — are unable to be reached regularly by humanitarian aid. One such area is the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, the site of a 2013 chemical attack. The town’s 400,000 people are besieged and living under aerial bombardment, the U.N. secretary-general’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said this week. Meanwhile, the political deadlock between major global powers continues to leave little hope for a breakthrough toward peace. The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday failed to pass a resolution condemning the chemical attack and calling for the Syrian government to follow through on its commitment to eliminate its chemical weapons stocks, after the measure was vetoed by Russia. U.N. Special Envoy Stephan De Mistura said he hoped to gather warring parties for talks sometime in May.

OECD’s Development Assistance Committee reported that aid reached a record high in 2016, according to figures released this week. Official development assistance from the 30 member countries or unions of the committee, which account for about 80 percent of ODA worldwide, reached $142.6 billion in 2016, an increase of 8.9 percent year-on-year. But part of the increase was due to money spent on refugee costs at home, with some countries spending more than 20 percent of annual ODA domestically. Bilateral assistance between DAC members and least developed countries also fell 3.9 percent in real terms to $24 billion in 2016, “as some DAC members backtracked on a commitment to reverse past declines in flows to the poorest countries,” the OECD said in a press release. The OECD is currently looking into attracting more private sector money and redefining ODA to include wider private sector support — but some civil society representatives are concerned this would lead donors to move further away from reaching the world’s poorest people.

In Venezuela, the most sustained wave of protests in several years is gripping the nation as citizens protest a collapsed economy, mass shortages of basic goods and increasing indications of political oppression. The demonstrations began after opposition leader Henrique Capriles was banned from politics for the next 15 years. But living conditions may be at the heart of the motivation for many on the streets, with reports that protests have spread to working class neighborhoods that were previously strongholds of the leftist governing party. Authorities have responded with tear gas, at times dropped from helicopters, as well as nearly 400 arrests. As instability spreads, so does the rising toll of humanitarian concerns. Last month, President Nicolas Maduro requested that the United Nations step in to “normalize” a catastrophic shortage of basic medicines in the country. Only half of the operating rooms in Venezuela’s public hospitals are now operational, and 78 percent of the facilities are out of key medicines, according to a study presented to the parliament and reported by EFE. Despite the need, Venezuela has not previously permitted international actors, save the Catholic Church, from assisting those in need.

The World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings are being held in Washington, D.C., next week. Ahead of the event, World Bank President Jim Kim outlined a new approach that will see the development finance institution move away from traditional project finance and reposition itself as an “honest broker” and “strategic advisor” to channel and multiply private investment into developing countries. During a speech given to students at the London School of Economics and reported by Devex, Kim talked about the need for DFIs to stop competing with each other and crowding out commercial investors. The schedule for the Spring Meetings includes sessions on the global refugee crisis, fintech, women’s economic empowerment, financing for climate action, and global education. Devex reporters Michael Igoe and Sophie Edwards will be on the ground at the meetings next week. Stay tuned to Devex for coverage and follow @Sophie_Ed1984 and @AlterIgoe.  

Public health advocates are taking the opportunity of International Chagas Day to remind donors that the neglected parasite continues to infect 6 to 7 million people worldwide. Chagas is curable if patients are treated after infection, but its chronic form can lead to at times fatal cardiovascular changes, or digestive and neurological disorders. For the mostly Latin American countries where it remains endemic, Chagas is a persistent drain on health services. Bolivia is home to the highest caseload, at an estimated 600,000 people have the disease and there are  8,000 new infections each year.

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