WHO's Ebola declaration, Lagarde's legacy, and USAID's focus on faith: This week in development

Christine Lagarde steps down as managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Photo by: REUTERS / Carlos Jasso

WHO declares an Ebola emergency, IMF chief Lagarde resigns, and hunger persists in middle-income countries. This week in development:

The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a public health emergency of international concern on Wednesday, citing the recent spread of the disease to the city of Goma, the recurrence of “intense transmission” of the disease in Beni, and the assassination of two Ebola workers over the weekend. At the same time, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged the international community not to interpret the declaration — which many experts and response organizations have long called for — as a reason to isolate DRC or close borders. “Such restrictions force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing the potential for the spread of disease,” he said. Organizations responding to the outbreak hope the WHO’s declaration will help unlock additional donor funding, which many say has been woefully inadequate. Of the $148 million requested for the Ebola response under a strategic response plan ending this month, only $109.33 million has been received. While announcing $63 million in new funding for the response, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart admonished other donors for their lack of foresight and generosity. “To put it very bluntly, we have about half the number of WHO staff that we should have doing preparedness in places like Burundi and South Sudan because the money is simply not coming through,” he said.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde formally resigned on Tuesday after eight years leading the institution. Lagarde has accepted a nomination to become head of the European Central Bank. While the IMF had previously been the target of criticism from development advocates who warned against its promotion of austerity measures and reduced social spending, Lagarde took steps to change that image and approach. She “brought the Fund into the 21st Century, using her leadership role to promote the relevance of the IMF’s mandate to addressing women’s economic empowerment and inclusion, climate action, governance issues, and crucially, inequality,” wrote Nadia Daar, head of Oxfam’s Washington Office, in a statement. The recent appointment of David Malpass as World Bank president suggests the longstanding “gentleman’s agreement” that has seen an American in that role and a European at the helm of the IMF will continue, and the latest shortlist of candidates to succeed Lagarde includes four eurozone officials, according to the Wall St. Journal. They are: Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the former finance minister of the Netherlands; Mário Centeno, current head of the Eurogroup and Portugal’s finance minister; Olli Rehn, governor of the Finnish central bank; and Nadia Calviño, the Spanish economy minister.

International religious freedom advocates gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the Trump administration’s second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s leaders used the occasion of the ministerial to champion the New Partnerships Initiative, a piece of the agency’s ongoing procurement reform effort, which seeks to broaden USAID’s partner base, including to faith-based organizations. “I don’t mean only faith-based organizations, of course, as a federal agency, our job is to find whoever is best qualified to get the job done. But it’s no secret that very often faith-based groups best fit that description,” said Bonnie Glick, USAID’s deputy administrator on Wednesday. Some have seen the Trump administration’s enthusiastic promotion of the religious freedom agenda as a broader attempt to reorient American foreign policy in a faith-based direction.

The absolute number of people suffering from hunger rose again last year, according to the "2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report, which launched on Monday during the U.N. High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. After decades of steady decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment has remained virtually unchanged at almost 11% since 2015. Of particular concern to experts who produced the report is the prevalence of hunger within middle-income countries, which have seen economic development indicators improve as hunger has increased. “The level of severe food insecurity is almost three times higher in countries with high income inequality compared with countries with low income inequality,” said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Programme. The Sustainable Development Goals call for achieving “zero hunger” by 2030, a far cry from the 821 million people currently suffering from food insecurity.

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.