Trump rattles the Middle East, WHO warns of diphtheria, and Yemen's violence blocks critical aid: This week in development

U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo by: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley / DOD / CC BY

Yemen’s escalating violence forces aid workers to pull out or shelter in place, a U.K. contractor faces funding oversight allegations, and U.S. President Donald Trump sets off alarm bells in the Middle East. This week in development.

Adam Smith International came under fire again this week after the BBC TV program Panorama alleged that U.K. taxpayer aid reached terrorist organizations through one of ASI’s projects in Syria. ASI denied the claims, but donors have suspended the project — which supports approximately 3,800 unarmed civilian police officers in northern Syria — while they investigate the allegations. The kerfuffle has raised questions in the aid community about managing risk in unconventional, security-focused aid projects, and whether the onus is on donors such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to better explain risk to the media and general public.

The United Nations Population Fund has evacuated part of its team from Yemen, in another sign of the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis, Amy Lieberman reported for Devex. A UNFPA spokesperson told Devex that they had experienced, “many sleepless nights of nonstop shelling and airstrikes,” and that this partial evacuation was a “precautionary measure in case the situation escalated further.” On Monday, Houthi rebels killed Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and then unceremoniously displayed his body in a video online. Fighting in the capital city Sanaa has intensified, as has a devastating bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has also imposed a blockade of Yemen’s largest port, cutting off fuel and humanitarian shipments to a country where 7 million people are on the brink of famine. On Wednesday President Trump issued a statement calling on the Saudis to allow humanitarian access to the country. “I have directed officials in my administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it. This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately,” Trump said. UNFPA is one of many relief organizations whose efforts have been hampered by widespread bombing. On Wednesday Mercy Corps reported that, “Currently, staff in and around Sanaa are forced to take shelter in their homes and humanitarian programs are hindered.”

President Trump announced Wednesday that his administration will officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that the United States will relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to the city, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their own. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s West Bank and Gaza mission has offices in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A USAID official referred Devex to the White House and State Department for questions about moving the embassy. World leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed alarm about Trump’s decision. “I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” Guterres said in a statement. Trump argued that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will help facilitate a Middle East peace process, which he previously said would be one of his primary foreign policy priorities. The State Department and USAID plan to spend more than $250 million in assistance to the West Bank and Gaza in 2018, and $3.1 billion in foreign assistance to Israel.

The World Health Organization warned that diphtheria is spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the city in Bangladesh where many of the more than 600,000 people who have fled from Myanmar have sought refuge. The WHO reported that more than 110 suspected cases have been diagnosed, and six people have died from the bacterial infection, which is preventable, but spreads quickly. "These cases could be just the tip of the iceberg. This is an extremely vulnerable population with low vaccination coverage, living in conditions that could be a breeding ground for infectious diseases like cholera, measles, rubella, and diphtheria," Dr. Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, WHO representative to Bangladesh, said in a statement. Devex reporter Kelli Rogers recently traveled to Cox’s Bazar, where aid groups are scrambling to provide services for refugees in far-flung camps.

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.

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