US development finance gets a boost, leaked UN memo shows mistrust, and fighting continues in Syria: This week in development

A mother feeds her child therapeutic milk to help her recover from undernutrition at a clinic in N'Djamena, Chad. Photo by: © European Union / ECHO / Isabel Coello / CC BY-NC-ND

The U.K. Department for International Development launches an internal investigation of at least four internal reports of sexual harassment in 2017, as a leaked United Nations staff survey shows fears over whistleblowing and ethical accountability. United States lawmakers introduced legislation to create a new development finance institution and a new report finds that malnutrition efforts are falling short in Africa. This week in development.

U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation this week that would create a new development finance corporation combining existing U.S. development finance capabilities and expanding its authorities. The bipartisan bill, introduced Tuesday, could be a landmark piece of legislation, altering the U.S. development landscape for years or decades to come. The Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development, or BUILD Act, would create a new agency that would combine the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the several private sector-oriented parts of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as expand U.S. development finance capabilities. The new agency will have the ability to make equity investments, have a higher spending cap, and have a grantmaking facility for project development and technical assistance. The proposal has been welcomed, even as some of the exact details are questioned.

A leaked U.N. internal staff survey revealed that one-third of U.N. staff see “a lack of performance and ethical accountability” and are afraid to report misconduct due to fears of retaliation. As sexual abuse scandals continue to rock the aid sector, the survey points to a lack of confidence among U.N. staff that they can “report misconduct without retaliation,” with only 45 percent saying they believe whistleblowers will be protected if they report misconduct or cooperate with an investigation. The survey also found that male and female workers expressed starkly different perceptions of gender equality and empowerment within the U.N. But the report did find that 83 percent of staff agreed that a diverse range of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds were respected within their department or mission, which is 24 points higher than the average across other public sector institutions, according to the report.

Bond for International Development wrapped up its annual two-day conference in London on Tuesday. The conference, which examines a wide spectrum of topics and challenges facing the international development community, was filled with discussions about the recent Oxfam sex abuse scandal, the cascade of new revelations, and calls for action at other organizations such as Save the Children, Care International, and BBC Media Action, among others. The event concluded with a surprise announcement from DFID that Bond would receive a 4 million pound ($5.49 million) grant to convene members to tackle safeguarding across the sector. The European Union released the draft blueprint for the U.K.'s exit from the EU on Wednesday, and while the document reveals little about the future of U.K. aid spent through the EU, it sheds light on how U.K. aid will flow through EU instruments during the Brexit transition period. Basically, the U.K. and U.K.-headquartered aid organizations will remain at the table — both financially and strategically — at current funding levels through Dec. 2020. Organizations will maintain eligibility, and DFID officials have stressed to U.K. organizations that they are pressing for "as close a relationship as possible" for the transition period and beyond.

DFID also announced that it is launching an internal investigation after a review uncovered that at least four DFID staff were reported for sexual harassment in 2017. DFID confirmed the figure was correct, but said it was released before a full investigation into locally reported allegations of sexual misconduct involving DFID staff — which was announced by U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt in Parliament earlier this week — had been completed. The review is only three-quarters of the way through and is due to be finished next week in time for the safeguarding summit on March 5, a DFID spokesperson told Devex.

Fighting and deadly attacks in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, have continued, despite a daily, five-hour ceasefire the U.N. Security Council passed and the Russian government agreed to over the weekend. Dozens have been reported dead since the ceasefire agreement between the Russian and Syrian governments and the rebel groups that control Eastern Ghouta. Mark Lowcock, the U.N. humanitarian chief, questioned the U.N. Security Council on when their resolution will be implemented. “More bombing. More fighting. More death. More destruction. More maiming of women and children. More hunger. More misery. More, in other words, of the same," he said, according to a Washington Post report.

No African country is expected to reach U.N. targets to end childhood malnutrition by 2030, according to a new study published in science journal “Nature.” The study pointed out that, while nearly all African countries showed improvements in childhood stunting and wasting since 2000, stark inequalities remain in some regions. The report used new geostatistical tools to map the African continent in five-by-five square kilometer areas and examined data and variations at the state and county level that are often missed in national summaries. It found that malnutrition indicators remained “persistently high” in 14 countries, including Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia, and much of the Sahel. The report also examined education and found wide gaps in schooling between genders and between people in rural versus urban areas.

About the author

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    Anne Paisley

    Anne Paisley is the Senior News Producer at Devex, where she oversees Devex’s newsletters, news website, and content management team. Prior to joining Devex in 2015, Anne was the managing editor at the Center for American Progress. She has previously held positions at CNN, the U.S. Department of State, and Cambridge Associates. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and Asian studies from George Washington University, including a semester abroad at Peking University in Beijing.