World Bank Annual Meetings, USAID's Syria uncertainty, and a Nobel for 'randomistas': This week in development

Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

USAID in the dark on Syria operations, Northern Triangle funding resumes, and the Nobel Prize goes to “randomistas.” This week in development:

David Malpass and Kristalina Georgieva are hosting their first World Bank and International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings as the heads of their respective institutions this week in Washington, D.C. Near the top of the bank’s agenda is the 19th replenishment of the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for low-income countries. IDA is targeting its largest replenishment ever — looking for roughly $80 billion — and its member countries want the institution to go deeper on challenges including climate change, debt transparency, and human capital. Malpass has spent his first six months on the job traveling to the bank’s country offices to gain a better appreciation for what exactly the bank does, and largely endearing himself to staff with his casual approach to managing the institution. Across the street, Georgieva has brought her commitment to working in fragile and conflict-affected states to IMF, where she hopes to bring fiscal policy tools to bear on persistent poverty.

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development does not have enough information about the situation unfolding in Syria to confirm whether or not the agency’s programs are still operational. “It’s very hard for any of us to get accurate information from the ground right now, understandably. We will do humanitarian assistance, as we have for years, whenever conditions allow us to, whenever it’s safe and secure,” Administrator Mark Green told Devex in an interview. “I just can’t tell you with any specificity. I’m not trying to dodge the question, I actually just don’t know because of the status at any given time,” he said. A USAID spokesperson told Devex that USAID staff formerly based in Syria have been withdrawn, but continue to manage the U.S. government’s humanitarian response. Green noted that USAID works primarily through partners in the country, and that, “they’ve been on the edge. Many have withdrawn.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers on Wednesday that the U.S. government will resume funding to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. In March, President Donald Trump announced that he was suspending assistance to the three countries out of concern that their governments were not doing enough to stem illegal migration to the United States. Since then, the Trump administration has signed Asylum Cooperation Agreements with all three countries — the texts of which have not been disclosed, but which include provisions that require asylum-seekers to apply for asylum within the Northern Triangle. Humanitarian experts have expressed concern that the three countries are not equipped to ensure the safety and protection of asylum-seekers, given their challenges with public safety and basic services. In his announcement about the resumed funding, Pompeo said it “will support programs that are advancing our joint efforts to mitigate illegal immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.” Aid advocates continue to worry about a foreign assistance policy that is entirely contingent on stemming migration.

The Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to three economists who pioneered the use of “randomized control trials” to tackle global poverty. Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer, and Abhijit Banerjee — known collectively as the “randomistas” — have sought to bring more empirical evidence to global development interventions, by conducting experiments that compare populations that either do, or do not, participate in targeted programs and services. Through their research, the economists have examined the effectiveness of subsidies for deworming medication, the impact of providing people with a two-year aid package, the benefits of remedial education for students in India, and a wide range of other interventions. The RCT movement has seen some pushback within the development community due to questions on applicablity to most poverty contexts and concerns about experimenting on people living in poverty.

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.