World Bank Zika funds and Syrian aid convoys: This week in development news

By Michael Igoe 18 February 2016

Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoys advance toward the villages of Kefraya and Foua in Syria. Photo by: Abdulaziz Al-droubi / Syrian Arab Red Crescent

A turf war over Internet connectivity continues in India, while aid convoys roll along the perilous road to Syria’s besieged cities. This week in development news.

Zika’s ‘moderate’ regional impact

While the Zika virus continues to spread across North and South America, more donors are taking action. Devex will dig deeper into Thursday’s modest $150 million commitment by the World Bank to meet Zika-affected country requests. The Bank has struck a far more tempered tone than it did during the Ebola outbreak, projecting Zika will have a “moderate” regional impact. In other pandemic emergency news, the European Union has launched the European Medical Corps, a voluntary pool of medical staff and equipment that will contribute to the World Health Organization’s Global Health Emergency Workforce.

California dreamin’ (of a pivot to Asia)

Devex reported from sunny Palm Springs, California, this week where President Barack Obama met with the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Apart from trade and regional security concerns, business connections, technology and the “digital economy,” and investments in youth headlined the discussions. Obama has stated that building programs such as the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative — and its equivalent in Africa — will continue to be a focus for him after he leaves office next year.

This election will not be live-tweeted

Election day in Uganda has gone as expected Thursday — that is, not particularly well. First the government blocked Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and mobile money platforms, ostensibly to prevent bribery of voters. Then news came that the leading opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, of the Forum for Democratic Change, was arrested. President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986, and he succeeded in having term limits removed seven years ago to stay in office. Human rights organizations have reported government crackdowns on opposition groups and the media, and long delays at polling stations have reportedly discouraged some voters.

A question of connectivity

Last week’s decision by India’s telecom regulators to block “Free Basics,” the Facebook-sponsored selective Internet access platform, has reinvigorated a debate about how best to connect the world to the World Wide Web. As Devex reports, the connectivity conversation has seen at least two camps emerge: those that favor entrepreneurial, private sector efforts such as Facebook’s, and those who think more comprehensive, publicly funded options will better serve the poor — and better preserve the open-access principle of “net neutrality.”

Seeking safety in Syria

More deadly airstrikes against hospitals in Syria have underlined the need for protected humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to besieged areas until a ceasefire can be brokered. The International Federation of Red Cross told the BBC that humanitarian convoys have left Damascus for both rebel- and government-held areas. Humanitarian access is seen as a test of whether warring parties can move closer to a “cessation of hostilities” by Friday.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Egyptian diplomat and former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali died this week at the age of 93. Boutros-Ghali was best known for urging bolder international action in response to some of the worst conflict and crisis situations of the 1990s — the Rwandan genocide, the siege of Sarajevo, Somalia’s civil war and famine — and for butting heads with world leaders such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton when they did not rise to the occasion. Boutros-Ghali also held the rare distinction of appearing graceful while being interviewed by “Ali G,” the Sacha Baron Cohen character with little regard for diplomatic decorum. Big up yo’ self.

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About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.


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