UNEP chief steps down, World Bank's Tanzania headache, and stalled progress on malaria: This week in development

Erik Solheim, outgoing executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme. Photo by: Mark Garten / U.N.

Stalled progress in the fight against malaria, the World Bank walks a tightrope in Tanzania, and the United Nations’ environment chief steps down over travel expenses. This week in development:

U.N. environment chief Erik Solheim announced his resignation Tuesday in the wake of reports documenting his extensive travel expenditures and raising questions about the amount of time he was spending at the U.N. Environment Programme’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. “On Saturday, I received the final report on the audit of official travel undertaken by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services. As I have maintained throughout this process — I have been and remain — committed to doing what I believe to be in the best interest of UN Environment and the mission we are here to achieve,” Solheim, Norway’s former environment minister, wrote in a statement. The Guardian previously reported that a leaked draft of the audit found Solheim had spent almost $500,000 on travel and hotels over the course of 22 months, and that he spent 80 percent of his time away from UNEP’s headquarters. The Guardian also reported that Solheim’s resignation came at the request of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, and suggested that donor countries were withholding UNEP contributions because of concerns about travel expenses. Joyce Msuya, Tanzanian microbiologist and UNEP’s deputy executive director, will assume temporary leadership of the agency.

The number of people infected with malaria ticked upward in 2017, according to the latest “World Malaria Report” from the World Health Organization. The increase, from 217 million cases in 2016 to 219 million cases in 2017 is evidence that a global campaign to eradicate the disease has stalled, experts concluded. In 2017, only $3.1 billion of an estimated $4.4 billion required was directed to achieve malaria elimination and control. About $2.2 billion of the total came from international financing. The malaria burden is also growing increasingly concentrated, with 11 countries accounting for 70 percent of cases. The report’s findings raised some key questions, Jenny Lei Ravelo reported for Devex. Among them: What impact has the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had on malaria control programs? DRC was one of a handful of countries to see their number of malaria cases increase by more than half a million last year. Health workers are grappling with how to roll out malaria control campaigns within the epicenter of the latest Ebola outbreak.

The World Bank and Tanzania have sought to navigate a series of disputes brought on by controversial and discriminatory policies supported by President John Magufuli’s administration. First, the bank criticized a proposed Tanzanian law that would subject anyone who criticized the country’s official statistics to criminal prosecution. This month, the bank withdrew a $300 million loan planned to support Tanzania’s education sector after Magufuli doubled down on a law that would expel pregnant girls from school and deny them the opportunity to re-enroll. At the same time, the bank suspended its own visiting missions to Tanzania out of concern for the government’s persecution of LGBTQ people. On Friday, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa, Hafez Ghanem, held talks with President Magufuli, and then spoke to reporters before departing the country on Saturday. According to Ghanem’s briefing, Magufuli and he reached an agreement on each of the above points, allowing the bank to restructure its education loan in a manner that provides access to girls and women and to lift the suspension of its visiting missions to Tanzania, which the bank announced Monday.

The Philippines and China signed 29 bilateral agreements during President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit to the Philippines. As expected, the agreements included deals on infrastructure projects, but also technical cooperation agreements on agriculture, technology, and education. The two parties signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, and a joint oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The agreements reveal participation of Beijing’s China International Development Cooperation Agency, launched earlier this year. CIDCA will be working with different Philippine agencies on several infrastructure projects. The projects could provide insight as to the role of the agency in China’s foreign policy. Details of the deals are scant as of this writing, but the Philippine government would be wise to be cautious in its dealings with the Asian giant to avoid falling into a debt trap, policy experts have warned. As Curtis Chin, former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank told Devex earlier this week: "Japan and China are clearly key players in a new 'Asian Game of Thrones' playing out in the Philippines. What is important is that the Filipino people do not end up the losers.”

About the author

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    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.