The EU and Africa, a pandemic, and accountability at the World Bank: This week in development |By Adva Saldinge

Global Health

Adva Saldinger
By Adva Saldinger
COVID-19 is declared a pandemic, the EU unveils a new vision for Africa, and the World Bank approves long-awaited accountability reforms. This week in development:

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic Wednesday as the new coronavirus continues its rapid spread. “We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.” The U.K. approved a £46 million ($58 million) aid package to help low-income countries prepare, including funding for the first-ever rapid diagnostic test to be produced on the African continent as well as up to £150 million to help vulnerable countries withstand the economic shock.

There were several other announcements of new funding or efforts to tackle the disease. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is investing a further $4.4 million for vaccine development efforts against COVID-19, bringing the organization’s total investments to $23.7 million. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and Mastercard committed up to $125 million for developing and scaling up treatments, with a focus on making products broadly available and affordable. The World Economic Forum launched a COVID Action Platform on Wednesday to better coordinate private sector response.

The European Commission unveiled its new vision for Africa, naming clean energy and digitalization as key elements of a relationship based on “mutual interests and responsibilities.” The document sets out five areas of partnership that will be “jointly defined” at an African Union-EU summit in October. They include green transition and energy access, digital transformation, sustainable growth and jobs, peace and governance, and migration and mobility. The blueprint left some unanswered questions, however, which Devex put to the commission.

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The World Bank approved long-awaited Inspection Panel reforms, ending a two-year struggle between members of the board’s Committee on Development Effectiveness. Conflicts between European and U.S. board members, who were pushing for stronger accountability, and borrower countries repeatedly delayed the reforms. The World Bank will now go ahead with creating a new accountability office and an independent dispute resolution service, while extending the timeline for communities to file complaints. Advocates described the reforms as a “watershed moment for World Bank accountability” — but added they were just the start of the changes that need to be made.

The World Bank also released its first strategy for fragility, conflict, and violence, which was approved after more than a year of consultations, drafts, and dozens of country visits. While the bank has historically waited until the end of conflict to begin its work in a country, the growing number of people living in poverty in conflict-affected states has pushed the bank to rethink the way it operates. The new strategy is intended to create a framework for what the bank’s engagement in fragile and conflict-affected countries should look like and how it should take place.

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