Policy Updates

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Chair of South Korean Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee calls for South Korean humanitarian assistance to North Korea

Yoon Sang-hyun, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and nification Committee at the National Assembly of South Korea, issued a statement urging the South Korean government to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea for relief from suspected food shortages due to COVID-19.  

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced this month that North Korea—among others—is facing potentially severe food insecurity due to border closures and disruptions in the global supply chain. The Ministry of Unification of South Korea estimated that the food shortage in North Korea will amount to 860,000 tons this year.  

In light of such circumstances, Yoon emphasized the need to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea, highlighting that the most vulnerable people including children will be most affected by the food crisis. To ensure that food relief is provided to those in need, he suggested that the World Food Programme (WFP) Pyongyang office could monitor the dissemination process. The South Korean government has already allocated US$34 million (KRW41.4 billion) to WFP to provide rice to North Korea, but these funds were not disbursed due to North Korea’s refusal.  

In addition to food supplies, Yoon also requested that South Korea provide necessary medical supplies and dispatch health and medical personnel to support North Korea in combatting COVID-19.  

In response to Yoon’s statement, Unification Minister Kim Yeon Chul stated that the Ministry of Unification is preparing for a comprehensive and sustainable measure on inter-Korean health and medical cooperation. Minister Kim also emphasized the need for wide public support on providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea and called for support from the National Assembly on the matter.  

News article – The Herald (in Korean) 

News article – News 1 (in Korean) 

New UK parliamentary report on humanitarian crisis facing Rohingya calls for continued UK assistance

The UK Parliament’s International Development Assistance Committee has published a new report assessing the humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya people. The report praises the UK government’s provision of development assistance to the Cox's Bazar camp — where Rohingya refugees are held in Bangladesh — and suggests that UK funding should continue. The report also calls on the UK to rally other donors to contribute to fully funding the UN’s 2020 Joint Response Plan, which requires US$877 million.   

The report also highlights concerns around living conditions for refugees in the camp, especially given the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, the report mentions the dangers associated with the ongoing internet ban, which hinders the circulation of vital information related to COVID-19, and the fencing in of refugees, which restricts their ability to abide by social distancing rules that could help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The report calls on the UK government to step up support addressing the poor conditions in the refugee camp.  

Report – UK Parliament  

Sweden’s ultra-lean ODA administration may compromise effectiveness, says new report from Expert Group for Aid Studies

According to a recent study by the Expert Group for Aid Studies, the Swedish government explicitly aspires to maintain a low level of administrative costs within its official development assistance (ODA) projects. However, the study shows that striving for this objective may sometimes be counterproductive. 

“Administrative spending should, of course, not be given a free rein, far from it”, said the author of the report, Professor Daniel Tarschys. However, “Saving on peripheral functions and knowledge building easily leads to missteps. There is much to suggest that the share of the administration in aid is not too large, but, on the contrary, too small.” 

The report points to several possible negative consequences of cutting administrative costs in ODA projects. These include selecting projects based on too little information, selecting inferior projects because they have lower administrative costs, distorting public funds, and distorting the choice of service provider. According to the report, the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) has at times - in order reduce its own administrative expenses - been encouraged to outsource project implementation to providers whose administration is excluded from their cost estimates. 

The report concludes that investment in knowledge usually pays off in the long run and that oft-maligned bureaucracy could actually make important contributions to the effectiveness of Swedish ODA. 

OpEd article – Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish) 

News article – Omvärlden (in Swedish) 

 

Climate adaption and food security are crucial to surviving pandemic, says Norwegian Development Minister

Norwegian Minister of Development Dag-Inge Ulstein and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote about international cooperation in a joint op-ed in connection with the launch of a new report from Ban Ki-Moon’s Global Center on Adaptation. The report, released on May 22, 2020, focuses on how increased efforts towards climate adaptation and food security will be an effective measure to limit the effects of the pandemic and on reconstruction.  

According to the op-ed, the pandemic is accelerating the risk of a global hunger pandemic in two ways. With lockdowns in place, some are families are not in a financial situation to access food, even where it is still available. While schools are closed, 370 million children all over the world are robbed of their primary daily meal. In 2020, Norwegian official development assistance (ODA) for climate adaptation and the fight against hunger increased by NOK 500 million (US$48 million).  

Opinion piece – Norwegian Government  

Press release – Norwegian Government (in Norwegian)  

Dutch parliamentarian Wybren van Haga joins right-wing party Forum for Democracy

On May 22, 2020, independent Dutch parliamentarian Wybren van Haga announced that he would become a member of the right-wing Forum for Democracy (FvD) political party. Van Haga had been a representative of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in the past, but he was expelled from the VVD in 2019 and kept his seat in the parliament as an independent. Van Haga’s change of direction has no direct immediate consequences for the current cabinet, given that FvD only has two seats in parliament. 

News article - NRC (in Dutch) 

Spain’s humanitarian assistance to support vulnerable populations affected by COVID19

The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation ‘AECID’ has announced an additional humanitarian assistance package to help addresss COVID19 impacts amongst vulnerable populations in middle- and low-income partner countries. AECID will provide with €304,000 (US$330,517) to three Spanish development NGOs working in South Sudan, Egypt and Senegal.  

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, AECID has disbursed up to US$950,517 in humanitarian assistance funding to support partner countries in addressing the crisis.  

 Press release – AECID (in Spanish) 

German Development Minister calls for action on conditions in Moria refugee camp, increased funding for global development cooperation

In an interview with the Berliner Zeitung, German Development Minister Gerd Müller called for increased funding for global development cooperation. “We have to see development funds as an investment in our own future,” Müller stated. Müller gave the example of climate resilience: Africa developing strong renewable energy capabilities continentally would be a prerequisite for successfully combatting climate change globally. To this end, supporting African nations in building up sustainable economies would ultimately benefit Germany as well, he said.

Müller further stressed the importance of implementing the planned federal supply chain law, drafted together with Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil. According to Müller, 50% of the German textile trade does not comply with the standards of ‘Germany’s Partnership for Sustainable Textiles’ yet. "This shows that voluntariness has its limits," Müller said. "Markets need clear rules.”

Müller repeatedly called on the EU to improve the conditions within the refugee camp Moria, currently hosting 20,000 people though suited for just 3,000. “I say it again: Moria is an eyesore in the middle of Europe. Responsibility must not be pushed back and forth forever”, he said.

News article- Berliner Zeitung (in German)

US State Department makes play for new health security powers

In a move that could shift much of the US COVID-19 pandemic response from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the US Department of State (State), the US has issued a proposal to restructure the response through a new office at State.

The proposal would create a new coordinator role and appears largely to be modeled after the President's Emergency Response for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is also part of State. This whole-of-government approach would be run by a unit called America's Response to Outbreaks (ARO) and would coordinate the pandemic response across all agencies. Although the proposal is short on details, government sources raised concerns about the impact such a new office would have on USAID's role and its ability to provide an integrated response.

Congressional approval to create the new offices and make the appropriations will be necessary.  There are several different bills that have been introduced in the US House and US Senate to address health care security and pandemic response. The latest bill was introduced by the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator James Risch, and co-sponsored by Senate Democrats Chris Murphy and Ben Cardin. The legislation would reorganize the US global health security leadership and would provide US$3 billion in funding for fiscal years 2021-2025. 

News article - Devex

News article - Politico

News article - Devex

Following US accusations, UN denies using COVID-19 funds to "promote abortion"

The UN firmly denied an accusation by the acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that the UN was using the COVID-19 response to "promote" abortion.

A letter sent by USAID claimed that sexual and reproductive health was given the same level of importance as other essential services, such as food insecurity and essential healthcare, in order to advance abortion. The UN spokesperson denied the claim, stating that while the UN supports "healthcare that prevents millions of women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth and protects people from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, we do not seek to override any national laws."

News article - The New York Times

South Korea establishes solidarity group at WHO for stronger cooperation in combatting infectious diseases

A group of countries led by the South Korean government launched a solidarity group at the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicated to fighting contagious diseases such as COVID-19.  

The group aims to use an action-oriented approach to strengthen global governance and solidarity on global public health. Named the Support Group for Global Infectious Disease Response (G4IDR), the group’s core members consist of South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Kenya, Mexico, and Peru, with open doors for other countries that are interested. Some members are on the WHO’s executive board, including South Korea, while some play a leading role in the global health sector. 

Speaking during the launch event, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “It is no accident that the Government of the Republic of Korea is establishing this initiative. Korea's expertise and appreciation of the need to fight infectious diseases is well-established, drawn on hard-won experience and knowledge from outbreaks past.” He also underscored the support of WHO and other multilateral health initiatives by saying, “I hope that G4IDR can play a catalytic role. You will have the support of WHO for this initiative as you pursue your collective goals. We are happy to do so alongside Korea’s International Vaccine Institute and our partner agencies GAVI, the Global Fund, Unitaid, Stop TB, and IVI.” 

G4IDR is the second of three solidarity groups launched by South Korea. The first such group was launched at the UN on May 12, 2020, and the third group at UNESCO on May 26, 2020. 

News article – Yonhap News 

Transcript – WHO 

Commission releases EU’s Farm to Fork strategy

The European Commission released its Farm to Fork strategy (F2F) for a “fair, healthy, and environmentally-friendly food system” on May 20, 2020. This is the EC’s first ever systemic strategy bringing together an aligned and comprehensive set of policies in the food, farming, and environmental sectors for the whole food production value chain. F2F calls for increased funding for agri-food research, including €1 billion (US$1 billion) for Green Deal priorities in 2020 and €10 billion (US$10.8 billion) for agri-food research via Horizon Europe (HE), the 2021-2027 research program. 

The F2F aims to make the EU a global standard setter on sustainable food systems to support the global transition to sustainable agri-food systems through international cooperation and trade policy. This will be done by engaging with trade partners (particularly in low- and middle- income countries) on sustainable food system policies, creating Green Alliances, facilitating international cooperation on food research and innovation, incorporating the EU’s F2F policies into programming guidance for cooperation with third countries from 2021-2027, and by advocating for the global transition to sustainable food systems internationally through events like Nutrition for Growth and the UN Food Systems Summit. 

Farm to Fork Strategy - European Commission 

Press release - European Commission 

Farm to Fork Strategy Q&A - European Commission 

Farm to Fork Strategy Factsheet - European Commission 

European Commission announces additional US$54 million in humanitarian assistance for ‘Coronavirus Global Response’

The European Commission announced that it would increase its support for the ‘Coronavirus Global Response’ by €50 million (US$54 million) in humanitarian funding to help address humanitarian needs created by the COVID19 pandemic. The funding is in addition to the EU’s previously committed funding for ‘Team Europe’s Global EU response’ to support the EU’s partner countries in responding to the crisis.  

 Press release - European Commission 

 Website on the EU global response - European Commission 

Australia provides US$61 million for cyclone repairs and COVID-19 support for Pacific Island countries

Australia has reallocated A$100 million (US$61 million) from its existing development program budget to assist Pacific nations struggling with the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis and working to repair damage from the recent cyclone Harold. Papua New Guinea will receive the greatest share of this assistance. 

In addition to this reallocation of development funding in favor of budget support for the hardest-hit countries, the government has announced that it will consider economic growth, health outcomes, and employment in assessing projects for its new A$2.0 billion (US$1.3 billion) Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. 

News article - ABC 

Sweden develops COVID-19 strategy

In the interest of securing access to a future vaccine against COVID-19, the Swedish government has developed a vaccine strategy consisting of three parts: continued international collaboration, development of a national vaccination plan, and appointing a national vaccine coordinator. 

"There are many pieces of the puzzle that need to be in place in order for us to be able to vaccinate against COVID-19. A vaccine must be developed, we must have access to the vaccine, and there must be an effective distribution structure here at home. This requires determined, proactive work and a broad vaccine strategy,” said Lena Hallengren, Sweden’s Minister for Health and Social Affairs.  

The first part of the strategy concerns Sweden’s continued collaboration with the European Union and the World Health Organization. The objective of the collaboration is to ensure a fair distribution of a future vaccine around the world while the global demand for a vaccine will be extremely high.  

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)  

EU launches new US$133 million call for COVID-19 research

The European Commission is launching a research call worth €122 million (US$133 million) through the EU’s Horizon Europe research program. This funding makes up part of the Commission’s pledge of €1.4 billion (US$ billion) to the ‘Coronavirus Global Response’ conference held on May 4, 2020. The research call includes:  

  • €23 million (US$25 million) to help speed up the manufacturing sector’s ability to repurpose production lines for manufacturing medical equipment, vaccines, diagnostics; 

  • €56 million (US$61 million) to support digital innovation and artificial intelligence solutions to facilitate digitizing industrial production; 

  • €20 million (US$22 million) to research behavioural, social, and economic impacts of outbreak responses; 

  • €20 million (US$22 million) for pan-European COVID-19 cohort studies; and 

  • €3 million (US$3 million) for collaboration of existing EU and international cohorts. 

Press release -  European Commission 

News article - Science|Business 

Commission’s new long-term EU budget proposal will boost health research and development funding

The European Commission will release an updated proposal for the EU’s long-term budget, the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF), on May 27, 2020, which will include a plan for COVID-19 recovery that will boost spending for health research and development assistance. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the outline of the proposal to the European Parliament on May 13, which will include three pillars: 

  1. Supporting recovery for member states;
  2. Kick-starting the economy and private investment; and
  3. Learning the immediate lessons of the crisis, including strengthening RescEU and the Horizon Europe research program, creating a new health program, and strengthening instruments for Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation and for pre-accession assistance.

The Commission has indicated that it is exploring a possible new research partnership on pandemic preparedness and would not cut funding for non-COVID-19 health research in its proposal.
 
Press release - European Commission
 
President von der Leyen’s speech transcript - European Commission
 
News article on pandemic partnership - Science|Business
 
News article on research funding - Science|Business

German development ministry presents new strategy on multilateral engagement

In April of 2020, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) presented its new 'BMZ strategy for a strong European and multilateral development cooperation'. The strategy aims to promote and strengthen multilateralism to effectively implement global development goals. To this end, the BMZ underlines its commitment to strengthening multilateral organizations, especially promoting increased EU engagement. According to the BMZ, the EU should act more strongly as a driving force to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Additionally, the BMZ wants to take the opportunity during Germany’s EU Council Presidency to promote its focus areas (e.g. EU-Africa cooperation, sustainable supply chains, digitalization).

The strategy also commits to focus internationally on climate protection, fair trade, health, education, and sustainable development across the Africa continent. The plan will also more strongly align the BMZ’s multilateral engagement.

Report – BMZ (in German)

South Korea contributes US$53 million for COVID-19 response in Latin America via Inter-American Development Bank

South Korea's Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) announced that it will provide a total of US$53 million to help its partner countries in the Latin American region combat COVID-19. Channeled through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), MOEF will contribute US$50 million through the IDB's Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF), as well as US$3 million in the form of a trust fund to finance four projects on health and medicine, private sector development, education, and public administration to fight COVID-19 in Latin America.  

The contribution of US$53 million is an addition to the MOEF’s US$400 million official development assistance (ODA) in health announced in early May. 

News article – The Korea Herald 

Australian Chair of CEPI warns against the risk of “vaccine nationalism”

Jane Halton, the Chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) — and  previous head of the Australian Department of Health — has issued a warning about the dangers of nationalistic approaches COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution. During an address to the Australian National Press Club, she argued that “vaccine nationalism” could threaten the effectiveness of international processes to discover an equitably available vaccine. This could be of particular consequence for poorer countries that lack the resources to develop their own vaccines.   

Around the world there are now more than 100 vaccines in various stages of research and development and almost one-quarter of them have made it to the human trial stage. Australian researchers from the University of Queensland, the Peter Doherty Institute, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) are working together on what is currently one of the leading vaccine candidates. Early-stage trials of another vaccine candidate produced by US company Novavax commenced in Australia on May 25, 2020. 

Blog post – The Lowy Institute 

News article – The Guardian 

News article – ABC 

Speaking at World Health Assembly, France's Macron praises coordinated pandemic response from WHO and EU, echoes calls for vaccine to be recognized as global public good

Speaking at the virtually-held World Health Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized the importance of the World Health Organization's (WHO), saying that the specialized UN agency is needed now more than ever before to coordinate the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macron announced that France had substantially increased its contribution to the organization (without mentioning an amount, which is still unknown) and actively promoted the ACT-A Initiative, a European financing and coordinating effort for vaccine development under WHO leadership.

Macron also praised the European Union for taking an active role in the global pandemic response; the Union succeeded in mobilizing €7.4 billion (US$8 billion) for a coordinated approach to mobilizing health agencies to work on diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.

Macron finished by emphasizing, like several others of his high-ranking colleagues, that any COVID-19 vaccine, once developed, should be considered a global public good to ensure universal access. 

Statement - French Presidency (in French)