Trump's budget, ET 302, and World Bank nominations: This week in development

Employees at the Government Publishing Office arrange copies of the first phase of the president's FY2020 budget proposal. Photo by: REUTERS / Erin Scott

President Trump proposes more development budget cuts, the World Bank’s presidential nomination window closes, and Venezuela’s border standoff strains humanitarian assistance. This week in development:

At least 45 employees of humanitarian and development organizations died in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which was flying the popular route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, when its pilots lost control of the plane. Many of the passengers were on their way to the U.N. Environment Assembly, UNEA4, and their sudden loss weighed heavily on colleagues who struggled to move forward with work they had planned to do together. Some told Devex they felt renewed commitment to deliver on the goals their colleagues had shared, while others admitted to finding the politics of a U.N. conference hard to stomach in the wake of such a devastating experience. A U.N. spokesperson confirmed to Devex that 22 of its staff were on board the plane. Nine passengers worked for the African Union. Organizations including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Red Cross, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children Denmark, the World Bank, and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency also reported that they lost colleagues.

President Donald Trump proposed once again to slash U.S. global development spending in his third budget request to Congress, released on Monday. The president’s spending plan includes $42.7 billion for the foreign affairs budget — which includes both development and diplomacy funding — for fiscal year 2020 compared to $56.1 billion appropriated by Congress for 2019. In addition to broad overall cuts, the budget repeatedly emphasizes that other countries should shoulder a greater share of the “burden” of development spending, particularly in funding multilateral institutions. Some development advocates remain skeptical of the administration’s approach. “We have yet to see a coherent strategy of how a lower budget request results in increased burden sharing,” said Megan Doherty, senior director of policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps. Since the White House budget proposal is merely a request to Congress, few expect lawmakers to adopt the Trump administration’s plan. Leading members of a congressional committee that oversees foreign affairs — Republicans and Democrats — drove that message home on Tuesday when they introduced three pieces of bipartisan legislation that each aim to reassert aspects of global development as core pillars of American foreign policy.

The window for World Bank presidential nominations closed Thursday, with only one known candidate — U.S. nominee David Malpass — emerging by the time this report went to press. The lack of any competition to lead the institution at a critical moment in its history will surely draw criticism from bank observers, who have demanded for years that the bank’s board engage in an open, transparent, and merit-based presidential selection process. The only known challenger, Lebanese investment banker Ziad Hayek, was abruptly withdrawn from the race before his nomination had been processed. Hayek claimed Lebanon’s minister of finance made that decision under pressure from other governments, though Lebanese officials have denied his account. Malpass, meanwhile, has appealed to World Bank shareholders by promising not to pursue radical changes at the bank, including by reassuring them that the institution would “[meet] its obligations on climate change” under his leadership.

The border between Venezuela and Colombia has been closed since the Feb. 23 standoff that saw the Nicolás Maduro regime’s military block attempted aid shipments into the country. As a result of the closure, Venezuelans seeking to cross the border — either for temporary work in Colombia or to escape a worsening situation inside their own country — have found that process more difficult, more expensive, and more dangerous, Teresa Welsh reports for Devex from Cúcuta, Colombia. Now, people who seek to cross the border must do so through a network of “trochas,” a network of informal river paths where young men offer to guide them — for a fee. Many aid organizations have concentrated their assistance in “La Parada,” the area around the now-closed Simon Bolivar Bridge. With the bridge now closed, and the border frozen in a political standoff, the population they serve has become even more vulnerable.

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.