Trump doubles down on the 'global gag rule,' and the Philippines bucks EU aid: This week in development news

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo by: Sikarin Thanachaiary / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Trump expands the “global gag rule” to $8.8 billion in health funding, Yemen’s weary capital faces cholera, and the Philippines turns an angry shoulder to European aid. This week in development news.

The Philippines is no longer accepting development assistance grants from the European Union, in response to European government criticism of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent policing policies. Government officials explained the abrupt and surprising change in policy — which means the country will forego roughly $275 million in assistance — as an effort to exert foreign policy independence, Reuters reported. European countries have criticized Duterte’s brutal drug war, and in response Duterte has bristled at the idea that development assistance gives foreign governments any leverage over his administration. The Philippines’ economic planning minister told Reuters that the policy could change, describing it as, “a reaction to criticism.”

The Trump administration rolled out a major, highly controversial expansion of policies prohibiting U.S. global health funding, which amounts to $8.8 billion, from supporting any organization that performs or promotes abortion as a method of family planning. When previously in force under the Bush administration, the global gag rule — also known as the Mexico City Policy — only applied to U.S. family planning funds, a roughly $600 million funding stream. The massive expansion to all global health funding means that health organizations will face a much more difficult choice between U.S. health funding or delivering family planning services they have deemed vital to women’s health. While The Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, are exempt from the policy, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — PEPFAR — and the President’s Malaria Initiative are both now bound by the policy. The State Department has yet to conduct a review of the “effectiveness and impact of the policy’s application,” but will do so over the next six months, according to the announcement.

Climate negotiators in Bonn cut through the noise of uncertainty surrounding Trump’s decision to keep or scrap the Paris Agreement and moved forward with the outlines of a “rulebook” to guide the implementation of the treaty, according to observers present at the meetings. Major polluters including China and India also reaffirmed their commitments to the Paris Agreement and agreed to accelerate their efforts to curb carbon emissions. Some observers noted that despite the generally optimistic tone in Bonn, the lack of real money on the table still presents a major obstacle to global cooperation. “In discussions on agriculture and adaptation, for example, vulnerable countries' efforts to move towards implementation, were stalled by developed countries' apparent allergy to anything that has cost implications,” said Teresa Anderson, climate policy officer for ActionAid International, in a statement. The climate conversation now moves to the G-7 meetings in Italy next week, where the Trump administration will likely be under further pressure to clarify its intentions.

In the run-up to snap elections in the United Kingdom on June 8, the major political parties have released their manifestos this week, outlining plans for how the respective groups would run government if elected. There is consensus across the board for maintaining the U.K.’s commitment to spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid, but aid groups are concerned the Conservative Party — the likely incumbent — is considering merging the independent Department for International Development with another government body, namely the Department for Trade. Keep an eye out Friday for a piece from Devex London reporter Molly Anders on reactions to and speculation about the new commitments.

Cholera has broken out in Yemen’s besieged capital city Sana’a, where crumbled infrastructure and collapsed health systems have paved the way for a treatable disease to take hold, IRIN reported. Sana’a has seen 4,000 cases of Cholera, and this week declared a state of emergency. As Yemen continues to reel from a two-year war that has killed a reported 10,000 people and left 10 million in near-term danger of starvation, Trump’s first foreign trip as president will take him to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition at war with Shiite Houthi rebels. U.S. lawmakers including Indiana Sen. Todd Young have pressed the administration to make humanitarian concerns a priority in its discussions with the Saudi government. Young told Devex and other reporters he has pressed the Trump administration to pursue a “diplomatic surge” aimed at relieving human suffering caused by Yemen’s war.

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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.