US aid budget battles, Airbnb's West Bank policy, and the securitization of Ebola: This week in development

A view of the Airbnb office headquarters in San Francisco, California. Photo by: REUTERS / Gabrielle Lurie

U.S. foreign aid budgets take their first steps forward, Airbnb faces backlash in the West Bank, and the “security mindset” around Ebola raises red flags. This week in development:

U.S. lawmakers have begun considering foreign aid funding levels for fiscal year 2020 — while roundly rejecting the latest Trump administration proposals to cut U.S. assistance budgets. The House of Representatives appropriations committee approved a bill on Thursday that would boost foreign affairs spending by almost 4%. Last week Democratic lawmakers put forward a number of policy provisions aimed at reversing White House and Republican efforts on a handful of politically controversial fronts, including the enactment of the Global HER Act, which aims to permanently repeal the “global gag rule” and roll back other administration efforts to curtail funding for family planning. Given the lack of agreement between Democrats and Republicans about top-line spending targets for the next fiscal year, as well as the inclusion of politically divisive measures, the bill appears unlikely to garner enough bipartisan support to become law. Lawmakers have also taken steps to counter the recent White House decision to suspend aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, with the House bill requiring that “not less than” $540.8 million should be made available for assistance to those countries. In a parallel effort, a bipartisan pair of representatives introduced the United State-Northern Triangle Enhancement Engagement Act last week, which would direct $500 million to the region and require the State Department to produce a report on the root causes of migration and U.S. efforts to address them.

Airbnb is facing criticism after reversing its decision last month not to list rental properties among Israel’s disputed settlements in the West Bank. Airbnb announced it will donate profits from those listings to humanitarian groups, while a coalition of 145 Palestinian organizations has urged international NGOs not to accept this funding, which they said, “effectively amounts to the proceeds of crime and will be amassed by the illegal policies and practices we seek to end.” Meanwhile, the United Nations is warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, unless international donors make additional funds available to compensate for recent, dramatic cuts, The Independent reported. The outlet has reported that the U.N.’s Palestinian Refugee agency — UNRWA — will run out of money in a month, which would require the agency to close schools, end health services, and cut its workforce of thousands in Gaza and the West Bank, most of whom are teachers. UNRWA’s Elizabeth Campbell told The Independent that such a scenario would likely have a destabilizing effect in the region, as the agency “would not be able to continue to feed half the population of Gaza.”

Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, warned that the “security mindset” dominating the international community’s concern over the Ebola virus outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo represents a chronic threat to emergency response. “With a security mindset, people will always respond late,” said Liu, who delivered a keynote speech at the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine’s Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine in Brisbane, Australia. “Instead of responding in a timely fashion, they will wait instead until they feel threatened,” she said, noting that people in eastern DRC have faced a range of life threatening health and security challenges for years, and are now feeling confused by and skeptical of the international community’s sudden and intense intervention. On Wednesday, 21 new cases of Ebola were reported, bringing the total number of cases to 1,760 with 1,147 deaths recorded so far. Speaking at a pandemic and biosecurity forum in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Ron Klain, who served as “Ebola czar” during the Obama administration, said that the World Health Organization has shown big improvement since its widely criticized response to the 2014-2015 outbreak in West Africa, but that the organization is not built to respond to conflict situations like eastern DRC.

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.