Trump's 'skinny budget,' and a mounting famine threat: This week in development

Internally displaced children queue for food supplies at a distribution center in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo by: Omar Abdisalan / AMISOM

President Donald Trump takes aim at foreign aid and the United Nations, famine concerns mount in four countries, and Syria’s war is six years old. This week in development.

President Trump illustrated his policy priorities Thursday with a budget request that strips funding from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, climate change programs, and international organizations and redirects it to the military. If enacted in its entirety — which is seen as highly unlikely — Trump’s spending plan would see U.S. foreign affairs funding slashed by 28 percent overall, with a handful of U.S. development agencies eliminated and U.S. contributions to the United Nations reduced. The so-called “skinny budget” is merely a starting point in budget negotiations that will continue for two months, with the U.S. congress, not the White House, ultimately holding the purse strings on budget appropriations. Trump’s proposal — which reflects views put forward in the past by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, but contradicts the advice of his own military leadership — met an immediate volley of resistance, both from global development organizations dependent on government support to carry out their missions and from U.S. lawmakers in both political parties.

Six years ago, peaceful protests erupted in Syria after 15 boys were arrested and tortured for showing their support for the Arab Spring uprisings in graffiti. Since then, an estimated 400,000 people have died in a conflict that has seen international norms brushed aside and provoked the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This week, doctors who have been battling to treat patients on the front lines of the conflict told lawmakers in Washington, D.C., what it has been like for them to operate in hospitals that have become the preferred air strike targets of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Along with humanitarian leaders, they pressed U.S. senators to support U.N. humanitarian system reform, to prosecute war crimes, and to sustain U.S. and international support for lifesaving aid to the Syrian people.

Global development organizations and thinkers joined artists, technologists and musicians in Austin, Texas, to help make social impact hip. South By Southwest, the annual festival of festivals included discussions of universal basic income, technology solutions for development, artificial intelligence and SXSW Social Impact Hub for attendees who are “driving social innovation.” Devex reporter Catherine Cheney was on the scene and keeping pace with efforts to draw a wider cross-section of people into global efforts to combat poverty and confront pressing challenges such as workforce development and urbanization.

In an exclusive conversation with Devex, Development Assistance Committee Chair Charlotte Petri Gornitzka shared that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development body tasked with setting and evaluating the organization’s rules for official development assistance will undergo a major reform process this summer. “The reforms will be made with an eye on improving its members’ use of the private sector in national aid policies, as well as becoming a more consistent complement and critic to the United Nations system, among other goals,” Molly Anders reported for Devex. The DAC has been criticized in the past for over-representing wealthy donors in its work, and the body is currently grappling with guidelines about the use of private sector instruments in development assistance spending.

Four countries face famine and the international community is scrambling to respond. More than 20 million people across Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria are at risk of starvation, in what the U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Devex spoke to CARE Somalia Director Raheel Chaudhary, who said that local governments in Somalia, as opposed to the national government, could be better channels for the distribution of lifesaving aid in the country. “We need to keep these local governments active because we have a very little window of opportunity to respond,” Chaudhary said.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

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.