The 'migrant caravan,' development data, and Yemen's food insecurity fog: This week in development

A scene from the 2018 United Nations World Data Forum. Photo by: IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

A push for data progress in Dubai, Yemen’s cloudy food insecurity picture, and the politics of U.S. aid to Central America. This week in development:

President Donald Trump’s view of U.S. assistance to Central American countries is at odds with that of one of his own representatives in the region. With roughly 7,000 migrants and asylum-seekers en route from Central America to Mexico and the United States border, Trump threatened this week to cut off assistance to their countries of origin. “Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.” Speaking at the Central America Donors Forum in El Salvador, U.S. Ambassador Jean Manes said that Central American countries remain committed to the priorities outlined in the “Alliance for Prosperity” program that guides U.S. assistance and cooperation with the region. The top priority for all three U.S. missions in the Northern Triangle countries is — and has been since the Obama administration — to reduce irregular migration to the U.S., Manes said.

The so-called “migrant caravan” represents a shift in how would-be migrants are undertaking the often-perilous journey north, experts told Devex. “What’s actually new here is that for the very first time in the recent past people have gotten together in the same country to leave. To leave as a group. That’s new. We hadn’t seen that before,” said Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas. Chacón said the group departure was not organized by any foundation or organization, as Trump and others have suggested, but grew organically through social media networks including WhatsApp and Facebook.

Development data enthusiasts gathered in Dubai this week to take stock of the role that better data systems can play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations World Data Forum aims for a “Dubai Declaration” that might help overcome some of the hurdles that have prevented more promising data application from materializing. Front and center at the forum was a focus on “making the invisible visible,” by ensuring that populations not often captured in data analysis can be better served by information that is collected with their identities in mind. Sex disaggregation, disability data, elderly population data, and recognition of migrants and refugees will all be critical to ensure development efforts proceed from an understanding of the people they aim to serve, and the forum highlighted efforts to build those capabilities. Discussions also focused on improving coordination between public sector services and private sector data sources, so that the former can better tap into vast pools of data that exist in the world, while guarding against the potential for misuse.

Yemen’s escalating civil conflict and deteriorating economic conditions could push an additional 3.5 million people to the brink of famine, according to the World Food Programme. But despite U.N. warnings of a serious famine risk, restricted humanitarian access makes it difficult to get an accurate assessment of the situation. Humanitarian groups say it is difficult to predict whether the WFP would declare a famine in Yemen, since doing so depends on a technical evaluation that they currently lack the necessary access to conduct. “Confirming the existence and extent of famine is made incredibly difficult. Famine is determined on the basis of specific scientific measures that are difficult for us to confirm without better access,” said Suze van Meegen, a protection and advocacy officer for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “I hope there would be more of a push on the political side to actually acknowledge that humanitarian aid is barely keeping people alive, so it is time for the governments that are fueling and funding the war to question their involvement,” she said.

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.