Venezuelan aid gets political, UNEP's new chief, and Australia's Indo-Pacific plans: This week in development

Inger Andersen, newly appointed head of the United Nations Environment Programme. Photo by: Eric Bridiers / U.S. Mission / CC BY-ND

The United Nations Environment Programme’s new leader, a World Bank presidential challenger, and Australian aid priorities. This week in development:

Humanitarian groups are warning that politicizing aid to Venezuela threatens the basic principles that guide their work. In a statement on Wednesday, Mercy Corps Americas Regional Director Provash Budden said, “It is regrettable that aid has become a pawn in the political chess match between the governments of the United States and Venezuela. Aid should never be used as political bait — both the people who need it and those who risk their lives to deliver it deserve better.” The statement comes in response to an escalating showdown at the Colombia-Venezuela border, where donors and governments including the U.S. have stockpiled humanitarian supplies, which Venezuela’s opposition plans to distribute inside the country on Feb. 23. It remains unclear whether the military, which so far remains loyal to Nicolás Maduro, will allow that to happen. Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized by many countries as interim president, has insisted that masses of Venezuelan people will help to guide the assistance supplies through Maduro’s blockade. The U.S. military for the first time played a role in delivering aid to the Colombian border city of Cúcuta. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green visited Colombia last weekend, and traveled this week to Curaçao and Miami, where the U.S. has prepositioned supplies.

Two-thirds of respondents to a new survey believe that Australian aid programs are effective, a slight improvement over results from three years ago, but still down from a survey conducted before Australia merged its development and foreign affairs departments. The 2018 Australian Aid Stakeholder Survey was released at the Australasian Aid Conference, which concluded on Wednesday. Only 17 percent of respondents thought the aid program was improving, down from 78 percent in 2013, prior to the merger. Australian officials at the conference described their biggest priorities for the nation’s development programs, including a whole-of-government plan for infrastructure investment, trade, and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region. “My main priority will be to get out to the Pacific and to the places I haven’t been yet and talk to them about what it is they want,” Anne Ruston, assistant minister for international development and the Pacific, told Devex.

Inger Andersen has been appointed the new head of the United Nations Environment Programme. A Danish economist and environmentalist, Andersen formerly led the International Union for Conservation of Nature and served as the World Bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa. Nominated and appointed by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, her tenure marks a new era for UNEP as it looks to overcome scandals related to its budget and travel costs, which resulted in the dramatic departure of its former executive director, Erik Solheim. Andersen’s appointment comes at an important time for UNEP, with seven months until Guterres hosts a major U.N. summit on climate change, and 10 months until the Paris Agreement on climate change takes hold.

The World Bank presidential race is now — at least officially — competitive. Lebanon’s minister of finance on Monday nominated Ziad Hayek, an expert on public-private partnerships and former investment banker, to challenge American candidate David Malpass for the job. Hayek is the secretary-general of Lebanon’s High Council for Privatization and PPP, and he helped craft and enact the country’s law on PPPs. He is also a former investment banker — and appears to have overlapped with Malpass at Bear Stearns, though it is unclear if they know each other. World Bank governors have until March 14 to nominate candidates for president. The position has always been filled by an American.

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.