Yemen cholera toll grows, as aid workers are under threat in Myanmar: This week in development news

A view of a Rohingya IDP camp in Myanmar. Photo by: Evangelos Petratos / EU / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

Threats to aid workers rise as violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar escalates, Yemen reaches a grim new benchmark in the cholera epidemic and Kenya’s election monitors are called into question as the Supreme Court calls for a new election. This week in development.

International aid workers are threatened in Myanmar, hampering efforts to help more than 100,000 displaced Rohingya people. Pressure from nationalists has made it difficult for the U.N. and international NGOs to buy fuel, cars and other goods, and there have been reports of hate speech and death threats directed against aid workers, along with looting of some NGO warehouses, according to a European Commission report released Monday. Amnesty International warned that these restrictions on aid are “putting tens of thousands of lives at risk.” The threats have mounted since the office of Myanmar's state counsellor and the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed development workers had aided “terrorists” in Rakhine state. On August 25, Rohingya militants staged a coordinated attack on state security. The subsequent fighting has seen hundreds dead, villages razed to the ground, and more than 100,000 civilians flee a brutal military campaign. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been criticized for her failure to protect the Rohingya minority, though she recently said that her government is working to protect their rights.

The cholera outbreak in Yemen continues to grow with more than 600,000 people infected with the disease since the epidemic began in April, dramatically outpacing expectations. When the epidemic began, the World Health Organization estimated that 300,000 people would be infected in six months in a worst case scenario. A shipment of 1 million doses of cholera vaccine was canceled in July because it was feared that it wouldn’t be able to contain the epidemic. The challenge is exacerbated by the inability of aid workers to access the people who need help or to get visas necessary for entrance to Yemen, as Devex has reported. The most important priority in trying to contain the outbreak is restarting payments to Yemeni civil servants, 1.5 million of whom the country’s Central Bank stopped paying about a year ago, as Devex has reported.

Kenya will have a new election after a surprise decision from the Supreme Court overturned the election results last week. The Supreme Court's decision, which was handed down on September 1, marks the first time in Africa that a court has annulled the re-election of a sitting president. The Supreme Court has yet to release its detailed judgement on the election, which will dictate how the electoral body prepares for the coming election. Kenyan opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, has pledged to boycott the new election on October 17 unless there are “legal and constitutional guarantees” put in place. Kenyan politicians and civil society have criticized international observers in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, saying that they favored the status quo over credible elections. Marietje Schaake, chief observer of the EU Election Observation Mission to Kenya, wrote an op-ed in Kenya’s The Star newspaper arguing that the nuances of their preliminary observation reports were not taken into account and that their team did not have access to the digital systems used during the electoral process, which limited their ability to monitor crucial parts of the process. Devex will be exploring the debate about the role of election monitors in the days ahead.

A new report offers recommendations for reform at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, most notably, bringing all U.S. development work — which is now done by a host of agencies, including State — under the control of USAID, thereby expanding its “size and mission”. The report was released this week by the Atlantic Council and drafted at the request of Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican from California and the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, following a hearing in 2016. This is the latest in a series of reports from think tanks providing blueprints for U.S. aid reform, which have covered issues ranging from hiring and personnel management, to contracting and procurement, to changing the way America delivers humanitarian assistance. These groups are aiming to look at President Donald Trump’s call for reform as an opportunity to put forward ideas that the development community believes could improve aid delivery and efficacy.

Hong Kong welcomed housing experts, government ministers and civil society groups to the Asia Pacific Housing Forum convened by Habitat for Humanity this week. The sixth edition of the forum carried the theme “housing at the center,” but the majority of conversations revolved around putting impacted communities at the center of housing solutions — from slum upgrading to policy creation. A notable session asked whether technology can solve the housing crisis in the Asia Pacific region — but it quickly escalated into a chuckle-inducing debate over the role of tech, the private sector and policy in housing solutions. The (predictable) takeaway? Tech isn’t the “end all, be all” solution, and neither is policy. Cue the session on partnership! Other talks touched on gender equality in housing solutions and ensuring quality shelter in an era of displacement. Tech and innovation dominated many other conversations — including questions about drones to map land use and a new “super budget” hotel to address affordable short-term housing needs, both of which Devex will report on more fully in the coming weeks.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.