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CGD in the News

March 12, 2019

US budget slashes global development funding, stresses burden sharing (Devex)

From the article:

WASHINGTON — For the third consecutive year, the Trump administration’s budget proposes slashing global development funding. It also underscores the need for increased burden sharing and proposes policy changes related to U.S. aid reorganization.

The budget requests $42.7 billion for the foreign affairs budget, including the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development. Congress appropriated $56.1 billion in the fiscal year 2019.

It is widely expected that Congress will reject the administration’s proposal when determining its budget — and there were already some signals Monday that might be the case. Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, said Monday in a statement that while he welcomes cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” from programs, “we must be careful that cuts don’t have unintended consequences that cost us more in the medium and long term. This is especially true of impactful cuts to humanitarian and development assistance.”


A merger between USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Food for Peace has long been in the works, but the budget proposes taking the consolidation a step further by bringing the State Department’s humanitarian assistance work into the new USAID bureau.

All humanitarian assistance would then be funded through a single appropriations account. It would also restructure some of the State Department’s refugee and migrant work and create a leadership position that would be dual-hatted at USAID and State.

Merging the principal humanitarian accounts is technically a very good idea, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, who served as the director of OFDA from 2013-2017: “Having a refugee account and a food account and an everything else account does not really reflect how the world works,” he said, adding that it makes it difficult to have coherent humanitarian assistance.

Having a single account will mean that aid is less siloed, both in terms of the type of aid, but also by who is receiving it, and decisions can be made by professionals closest to the crisis rather than by Congressional appropriations, Konyndyk said.

The policy proposal, however, is only “half good,” he said. The decision to move all assistance from State to USAID is one that Konyndyk warned against in a 2017 blog post. It is useful to have refugee expertise and assistance at the State Department with resources tied to it, he said.

“You need a strong partnership between State and USAID. Displacement is an inherently diplomatic and political issue, so State needs both the expertise and the resources at its disposal to be able to respond and influence policy and we’re concerned that the proposal ignores that reality,” said Mercy Corps’ Doherty.

Congress will likely carefully examine the administration’s proposals for reforms, particularly when it comes to humanitarian assistance and refugee and migrant issues, Konyndyk said. The administration will have to work hard to make the case for the changes and convince legislators that it would not further undermine U.S. leadership on refugee and migrant issues, which will be a “tough case to make,” he said.

It will be made more difficult by the fact that the administration still lacks senior people in key positions who would be making that case, Konyndyk said.

The budget also reiterates a commitment to further reform USAID and focus on “self-reliance” by prioritizing private sector-led growth, domestic resource mobilization, and economic and governance reforms. It highlighted the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative as the type of “responsible spending” the administration wants to achieve and touted its “cohesive whole-of-government approach,” rigorous metrics and leveraging of partnerships.

Another change proposed in the budget is that the U.S. African Development Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation would cease to be independent organizations and will become part of a new small grants office at USAID. The key to such a move would be ensuring that the unique capabilities of the agencies — they provide direct support to organizations and local civil society in the developing world — would not be lost in the process and the U.S. doesn’t have a good track record of doing that, Konyndyk said.


March 11, 2019

Blame game over aid leaves Syrian refugees stranded in desert ‘death’ camp (Public Radio International)

From the article:

Stranded in the remote deserts of Syria near the Jordanian border lies Rukban Camp — an unofficial tent city of over 40,000 displaced people who fled from war in Syria. What began as an informal settlement in 2014 evolved over time into a complex camp with no running water, regular food supplies or access to medical care. 

“I can't explain to you how bad the situation is,” Rukban resident Muhammad A’kil, 27, told The World over a smuggled satellite phone that connects to the internet for about one hour every few days. A’kil, originally from Homs, Syria, has been in limbo at the camp for four years.  

“Don’t call it Rukban Camp; it's a death camp,” A’kil said. 


Rukban stands out as another bitter example of how delivering humanitarian aid can often get hampered by politics. 

“When aid becomes a proxy for a political struggle, it's just much, much harder to get it to the communities who need it, because one side or the other will see it as a threat,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of foreign disaster assistance programs for USAID in Syria during the Obama administration.


March 11, 2019

Budget calls for deep cuts to foreign aid, especially for refugees and in humanitarian crises (Washington Post)

From the article:

The Trump administration is proposing slashing the budget for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by almost 24 percent, with particularly steep cuts to humanitarian aid, refugee assistance and global health programs.

The proposed 2020 budget would take three funds that collectively are funded by more than $9 billion and consolidate them into an International Humanitarian Assistance fund that would be allotted about $6 billion, a one-third drop. In addition, the administration proposes cutting global health programs from $8.7 billion this year to $6.3 billion next year, a cut of almost 28 percent.

The White House budget request reflects the priorities of the administration, which has not been successful at getting its proposals past a Congress in which foreign spending enjoys wide bipartisan support. The administration submitted even deeper drops in foreign spending during each of the previous two years, and Congress largely restored them.


Development aid groups have long recommended consolidating accounts to streamline responses to humanitarian disasters. Keeping them separate and narrowly focused can hold up assistance.

“Putting three accounts into a single account would be a good idea, if it’s not used to cover cuts in collective resources by a third,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.


March 7, 2019

USAID tried — and failed — to convince Saudi Arabia not to strike civilian targets in Yemen (Devex)

From the article:

WASHINGTON — At the start of the conflict in Yemen, which has now devolved into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, U.S. officials worked behind closed doors to convince Saudi Arabia’s leaders not to target humanitarian and civilian sites for airstrikes.

Those efforts largely failed due to a lack of high-level political will within the Saudi government, according to two former U.S. officials who testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday.


The U.S. Agency for International Development was also involved in the process — particularly in terms of identifying areas and sites that the Saudis should not target with their airstrikes.

USAID put together a list of humanitarian sites such as NGO offices and warehouses — “things that, if you looked at them from the air, you might not be aware it’s a humanitarian facility. Whereas we assume you would know what a school looks like, what a hospital looks like, and so on, and not hit those things,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who directed USAID’s office of foreign disaster assistance during the Obama administration.

“What we found was that the Saudis tended to treat anything not on the no-strike list as fair game. So then we expanded the list, and we began naming specific categories of sites, including specific road routes that were critical to the humanitarian effort,” Konyndyk said.

In 2018, Saudi airstrikes targeted and destroyed bridges along the main road from the port of Hodeida to Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa. That road served as the principal transport route for humanitarian and commercial food shipments into the country.

“They struck that despite us having specifically told them through that process not to,” Konyndyk said.

Radhya Al-Mutawakel, a Yemeni human rights activist who leads the organization Mwatana for Human Rights, pointed out that when Saudi attacks produce mass civilian casualties, there is often not even a military target nearby that might explain the collateral damage.

“People themselves were asking why we were targeted,” Al-Mutawakel said. “That’s why it’s not a matter of training, it’s a matter of accountability. They don’t care. If they care, they can just make it much better,” she said.

The United States, as a key ally of Saudi Arabia and major arms supplier to the country, has both culpability and leverage in a conflict that has left 80 percent of Yemen’s population in need of humanitarian assistance, Konyndyk told lawmakers.

Applying that leverage will require more concerted effort at the highest levels of government.

“When the Saudis are doing something we don’t want them to do … asking them nicely while continuing to sell them arms has not yielded much progress,” Konyndyk said. “The only times we have seen progress has been when, at a very high level up to and including, at times, the president himself, when they put that request forward and make clear that it will have consequences for the U.S. bilateral relationship if it is ignored, then we see movement.”


February 27, 2019

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó plans to take over as president when he returns (CBS)

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó says he will begin acting as president as soon as he returns to Venezuela. Guaidó traveled to Colombia, where he met with Vice President Mike Pence. Former USAID official Jeremy Konyndyk joined CBSN to discuss what's next for Guaidó and how President Maduro is responding.

Click here to watch!

February 26, 2019

USAID looks for congressional support for reorganization plans (Devex)

From the article:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green will testify at the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday in a hearing that will likely offer a window into the status of the agency’s ongoing reorganization.

Many of the changes Green and his team hope to make require approval from lawmakers. The agency laid out its request in a series of congressional notifications last summer. The notifications, which Devex obtained, provide an in-depth look at the reasons behind Green’s proposed changes, what the agency’s leaders expect will be required to make them happen, and the specific problems each of the proposals are intended to fix.


“Operating as two distinct organizational units to address a common set of humanitarian issues is inherently inefficient as it requires two sets of management and support structures with separate policies, processes, systems, tools and staffs,” the notification reads.

It also creates an unhelpful barrier to delivering complementary forms of assistance, such as food and health interventions, as Jeremy Konyndyk, former head of OFDA, noted on Twitter.

Under the new plan, OFDA and Food for Peace would merge into a consolidated bureau for humanitarian assistance, which would, according to USAID, “enhance the provision of the full-spectrum of humanitarian-assistance activities to include prevention, mitigation, and disaster risk-reduction, to enable communities to recover from, and respond to, emergencies on their own, and over time reduce the need for expensive humanitarian assistance, particularly in areas of recurrent crises.”

The idea of the merger is not new. Under the previous administration, USAID commissioned a study from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to explore the idea and found that it could lead to reduced duplication and cost savings.

Konyndyk, who led OFDA during the Obama administration, applauded Congress’ approval of the plan, noting that the competing structures made previous efforts at coordination difficult.

“Historically this distinction led to weaker programming. During my time at AID, we tried to do integrated food/non-food grants during the Ethiopia drought of 2016, and found ourselves tied up in months of red tape due to different systems and grant requirements,” he wrote on Twitter.


February 5, 2019

U.S. sends aid to Colombia-Venezuela border; Maduro rejects help (Reuters)

From the article:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has sent food and medicine to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, although it is still unclear how the aid will get past the objections of President Nicolas Maduro, who has blocked shipments in the past.

One official with knowledge of the plans, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aid will be prepositioned at the main Colombian-Venezuelan border crossing at Cucuta.

The U.S. officials said trucks carrying the aid, including high-protein foods, would arrive in Cucuta this week at the request of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who last month declared himself to be the South American nation’s interim president.


With Maduro in control of Venezuela’s military and all the territory, getting aid in will be hard, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who has led U.S. government responses to international disasters.

“If the goal here is to alleviate suffering, then you do need to be smart about dealing with the power structure that is in place,” Konyndyk said.

February 4, 2019

Before Trump’s State of the Union, a Look at How Last Year’s Promises Fared (The New York Times)

From the article:

In his first State of the Union address last year, President Trump outlined his vision for an “America first” approach to overhauling the immigration system, revitalizing manufacturing and prioritizing national interests abroad.

As Mr. Trump prepares to deliver his second address on Tuesday, which is also expected to highlight the president’s immigration agenda, here’s an assessment of his progress on the promises he made last year.


Foreign policy

THE PROMISE: “That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.”

Status: Unfulfilled.

Congress ignored Mr. Trump’s calls to drastically reduce foreign aid, instead approving budgets that included billions more than the president had requested, and made no significant changes to foreign aid policy.

Sarah Rose, an analyst at the Center for Global Development, said the administration had been constrained by Congress — and its own “fundamental inconsistency” in funneling money to friends and allies while simultaneously giving aid to countries that might not otherwise receive it in order to counter China’s influence.

Mr. Trump has threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries over migrant caravans, and Nikki R. Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, had proposed making aid contingent on support for American-backed policies at the United Nations.

Yet the amount of assistance given to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador has been typical. And while the United States did end funding for Palestinian refugees in August, it did not follow through on withholding aid from countries that voted for a United Nations resolution condemning Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former director of the foreign disaster assistance program at the United States Agency for International Development.

“The issue is that he made a promise that was well beyond his ability to accomplish,” Mr. Konyndyk said. “The president is not a monarch and can’t just do things unilaterally.”

January 24, 2019

A Little Optimism, A Lot Of Pessimism: The 2019 Outlook For Humanitarian Crises (NPR)

From the article:

It's quite clear that 2018 was a tough year for the world's humanitarian agencies. They tried to provide help to the victims of ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Somalia, to name a few hot spots. And then there were the major disasters like the floods in India and the tsunami and earthquakes in Indonesia.

This year, the challenges will continue in full force, according to an annual report from UNOCHA, the U.N. humanitarian agency, called World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2018.


Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and former director of disaster assistance for USAID, says these longer-lasting crises are being driven by conflicts that "just are not being resolved."

Today's dominant conflicts, like those in Yemen, South Sudan and Syria, have been ongoing for years and are still far from a conclusive political solution, he says. As these conflicts drag on, the ability of local people to cope wears thin, making them even more vulnerable to additional shocks. In the meantime, Konyndyk says humanitarians are a "band-aid brigade – sometimes on an indefinite basis."

January 9, 2019

Humanitarian Experts Debate Trump's Use Of The Term 'Humanitarian Crisis' (NPR)

From the article:

Some aid researchers say that Trump's role in creating the crisis strips him of the moral authority to call it a "humanitarian crisis."

"It's as if a mobster threw a brick through a window and said, 'Boy, there's a lot of crime,' " says Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and the former head of international disaster response for the Obama administration.

"If you're the one causing the crisis, the simplest and right thing to do is to stop what's causing it," he says.