This week in development

By Michael Igoe 08 June 2017
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / U.N.

Voters in the United Kingdom head to the polls for a vote with wide implications for development assistance, Facebook taps its user data for disaster response, and the development community mourns a passionate advocate for women and girls. This week in development:.

European Union leaders signed the bloc's new development framework into action on Wednesday at the opening of Europe's biggest annual development summit, the European Development Days. Thousands of political, business and civil society leaders have gathered in Brussels for the event, which ends Thursday, with key discussions centering on climate change, migration, accountability and the private sector. The summit comes at a critical moment. As the United States looks set to retreat from its role in global development, many in the sector are looking to Europe for new leadership; but controversy has also surrounded recent trends in European development aid, with NGOs claiming that donor governments are prioritizing domestic political objectives over development goals, as Devex has reported.

The United Kingdom is heading to the polls today, and while the leading candidates agree that 0.7 percent of gross national income should be spent on U.K. aid, the rival Conservative and Labour parties have found little else in the way of common ground. The favorite in the polls, incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May, has pledged to change the rules (again) around which security or military costs can count as official development assistance, with the caveat that she will break with the 30-member OECD DAC if she can’t get consensus. Labour, by contrast, wants to focus on improving the private sector’s engagement with aid, as well as on negotiating aid-friendly trade deals as the U.K. leaves the European Union. Even if the polls are correct and the Conservatives win and enlarge their parliamentary majority, many speculate that the U.K.’s current aid leadership may not be returning to Whitehall.

U.N. leaders turned their attention to oceans at the first U.N. Oceans Conference this week, emphasizing the importance of both furthering science and taking action to preserve the world's oceans, which cover about three-fourths of the Earth's surface. Oceans serve as a crucial source of livelihood and food for billions in developing countries and small island states. "The conservation and sustainable use of oceans can be achieved only if we manage to address effectively the threats that oceans face," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said. The conference has yielded a pact on transparency practices for tuna fishing and a government pledge to continue implementing SDG 14 — conserving and sustainably using the world's oceans and marine resources.

President Donald Trump nominated Ray Washburne, a Texas-based investor and Trump campaign supporter, to be the next chief executive of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation this week. Washburne, if confirmed, will lead a U.S. development finance agency that the Trump administration has targeted for elimination in its 2018 budget request. Based on reports from past OPIC CEOs who have spoken to Washburn, Trump’s nominee does not see winding down the agency for elimination as his role, but will instead look to emphasize economic growth in OPIC’s overseas investments.

Facebook announced a new disaster maps initiative to share users’ location data with select response organizations, Devex reported. The information will be aggregated and de-identified, and will include users who have their location settings enabled. UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Programme all worked with the social media behemoth to design the new service, which builds on previous efforts to tap Facebook’s data and mapping capabilities during disasters. While responders hope the initiative can help fill a gap in situational data in the early hours of disaster response, it also raises some challenging questions. For example, as response efforts become more data-reliant, how can organizations ensure they don’t omit people who aren’t tapped into social networks? Facebook and its partners also expressed their commitment to upholding users’ privacy rights.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, died this week. Devex spoke to Osotimehin, widely known as a passionate advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, in March at the “She Decides” conference. The conference was held in response to increased pressure on family planning budgets and policies. “This is [about] sexual and reproductive health and rights — the whole range of services — and empowering women to take charge of their lives; that is what it was about,” Osotimehin told Devex. He was 68.

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