The UN's new chief is sworn in amid Aleppo's cries for help: This week in development news

By Michael Igoe 15 December 2016

Staffan de Mistura, United Nations special envoy for Syria, holds up a photo of Aleppo while briefing journalists following a Security Council emergency meeting on the situation in the country. Photo by: Amanda Voisard / U.N.

Development professionals come to terms with Trump’s secretary of state pick, while the international community reckons with a meltdown in Aleppo. This week in development news.

The international community’s failure to broker a political solution to the conflict in Syria came to a catastrophic head this week as the Syrian Army and its allies overwhelmed rebels in east Aleppo. A series of temporary cease-fires collapsed and were rebrokered to allow civilians to escape the city. Still, tens of thousands are thought to still be trapped in the besieged area. Among those still caught in east Aleppo are humanitarian workers — local partners of organizations such as Save the Children. “Our partners in Syria have at least 300 humanitarian staff in the city still, living under intense bombardment with their families but fearing they will be arrested or killed if they try to leave,” the organization said in a statement. Aid groups continue to call for civilians to be protected in accordance with international law, for humanitarian access, and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

António Guterres was sworn in Monday as United Nations secretary-general. He will take over for Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 1. The Guterres era kicks off at a troubled time for the U.N., as the tragic humanitarian crisis in Aleppo broadcasts the failure of multilateralism to prevent the Syrian conflict from reaching this catastrophic point. At his swearing in, Guterres pledged to carry out a number of reforms, including pushing the U.N. to play a bolder role in conflict resolution. He also highlighted operational and staffing challenges — including personnel deployment, communications, gender parity, transparency and abuse prevention — as areas where he will focus. “Looking at U.N. staff and budgetary rules and regulations, one might think some of them were designed to prevent, rather than enable, the effective delivery of our mandates,” Guterres said.

Trump picked ExxonMobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. Supporters of the pick laud Tillerson’s international deal-making experience. Critics say he will rewrite foreign policy on behalf of natural resource extraction and corporate gains — joining fellow cabinet picks in rolling back progress on climate change. They also point to a resume with no public service experience and previous ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson is not a complete unknown to the development community. The United Nations Foundation awarded him its Global Leadership Award in 2011, and Malaria No More honored him with the Corporate Leadership Award for efforts to combat the disease. With Tillerson at the helm, analysts expect the State Department to continue supporting energy access goals associated with Power Africa, malaria eradication — which the ExxonMobil Foundation has also supported — and women’s economic empowerment, another ExxonMobil focus and an issue Tillerson championed in his UNF award acceptance speech.

Twenty-nine donors pledged nearly $273 million to the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund Tuesday at its annual fundraising conference in New York, reaching 60 percent of its target for next year. CERF responds to emergency and underfunded crises almost immediately with a projected annual target budget of $450 million. As of October this year, CERF had received nearly 80 percent of its requested budget. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described CERF as a “critical tool in times of crisis.” “The success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is inseparable from our success in assisting the most vulnerable and the hardest to reach. … And our first and most immediate tool is the CERF,” he said at the meeting. Given the increased humanitarian needs worldwide, CERF plans to scale up its annual funding target to $1 billion by 2018, U.N. leaders announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May.

UNICEF celebrated a star-studded 70th birthday party Monday, with goodwill ambassadors including international soccer star David Beckham, actress and activist Priyanka Chopra and martial arts movie star Jackie Chan. The Empire State Building marked the occasion by turning “UNICEF-blue.” Beckham switched on the lights.

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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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