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Biden's 'skinny budget' will preview support for US foreign assistance levels

US President Joe Biden is expected to release his 'skinny budget' (a preview of Biden's first budget request) soon, which will provide at least top-line funding levels for US foreign assistance. The full budget proposal is expected later this spring.

Development advocates are closely watching the amount of funding for the International Affairs Budget, otherwise known as the '150 account'. One analysis done by the United States Global Leadership Council showed that in order to meet the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic and other development programs, an additional US$14.0 billion above fiscal year (FY) 2021 levels (excluding emergency funding) would be needed. That would put the FY 2022 level at US$71.6 billion for the 150 account. 

Although US global development programs generally have bipartisan support in Congress, it is not clear that a significant jump in funding for US foreign assistance will pass. Congress ultimately makes the decision as to whether to follow the president's budget request. Former US President Donald Trump routinely proposed significant cuts to US assistance, but Congress largely ignored them, keeping funding essentially level. 

News article - Devex

EU launches new US$6.2 billion 'EU4Health' program to strengthen health systems, fight cross-border health threats

The EU launched its new EU4Health program, which was allocated €5.1 billion (US$6.2 billion) from 2021-2027 to strengthen health systems, tackle cross-border health threats, and improve preparedness and response capabilities for future health crises. 

EU4Health will play a critical role in the European Commission’s efforts to build a European Health Union. It will also include the Commission’s proposed European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). 

The program will apply retroactively from January 1, 2021. 

Press release - European Commission

Q&A - European Commission

Sweden supports UN declaration on global access to COVID-19 vaccines

On March 26, 2021, alongside more than 170 countries, Sweden gave its support to a UN declaration on global access to COVID-19 vaccines, initiated by Lebanon. In addition to signing the UN declaration, Sweden has endorsed a similar resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as well as contributed SEK 200 million (US$24 million) to COVAX, the global initiative formed to provide equitable access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

“COVID-19 is a global health crisis, but also a humanitarian disaster,” said Per Olsson Fridh, Minister for International Development Cooperation. “The indirect effects of the pandemic on the economy, mobility, and democracy risk rolling back years of global development. It is in everyone's interest to get a quick and global stop on COVID-19 as quickly as possible."

Fridh pointed out that the UN declaration signed on Friday underlines the need for further global collaboration to ensure that everyone can have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. "This is incredibly important, and Sweden has played an active role in producing the declaration," said Fridh.

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)

On call with UK Prime Minister, US President proposes creating infrastructure fund to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

US President Joe Biden is reported to have suggested on a phone call to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, that democratic countries should come together to set up an infrastructure fund to rival China’s influential Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  

BRI, launched by China's President Xi Jinping in 2013 has provided trillions of dollars to low-income countries around the world for infrastructure projects, and it has helped to raise China’s global economic and political influence.

Biden reportedly wants to counterbalance China's influence through his proposal of an infrastructure fund. It is yet to be seen whether the idea will gain any ground among the G7 leaders and beyond.

News article - Al Jazeera

World leaders join European Council President and WHO Director-General in calling for international pandemic treaty

World leaders joined European Council President Charles Michel and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in signing an op-ed calling for a new international pandemic treaty to ensure improved global pandemic preparedness and response for future potential health crises. 

The op-ed acknowledged that no country or multilateral agency could address the COVID-19 pandemic—or future pandemics—alone and that the current crisis serves as a reminder that no one is safe until everyone is safe. The treaty would encourage an “all-of-government and all-of-society approach” at all levels to enhance cooperation on a variety of preparedness and response measures. It would fortify mutual accountability and use a 'One Health' approach that looks at human health not as an isolated entity, but rather as intertwined with the health of animals and our planet. 

The heads of states highlighted the role that the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) has played in fighting the pandemic, as well as the lessons it has provided, including the need for stronger partnerships for equitable access to treatment and vaccines globally.

Leaders from the following countries signed the treaty: Fiji, Thailand, Portugal, Italy, Romania, the UK, Rwanda, Kenya, France, Germany, Greece, South Korea, Chile, Costa Rica, Albania, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Senegal, Spain, Norway, Serbia, Indonesia, and Ukraine.

Press release - Council of the EU

Press release - WHO

News article - Euractiv

Director of Australia's Lowy Institute recommends measures to support Papua New Guinea's COVID-19 response

Jonathan Pryke, Director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, wrote in an op-ed that Australia must do much more to help Papua New Guinea (PNG) respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pryke urged that Australia undertake greater provisioning of PNG with medical equipment, as well as providing vaccine doses from Australia’s domestic stocks. He suggested that Australia should seek partners—such as churches, provincial governments, mining companies, and NGOs—in all PNG provinces to help with the vaccine rollout. 

He also recommended that Australia support a substantial communications rollout in PNG, in view of widespread attitudes against accepting the vaccine influenced by misinformation and disinformation.

Op-ed - Lowy Institute

Japan provides US$144 million for COVID-19 response in Uzbekistan

Japan announced that it will provide up to ¥15.0 billion (US$144 million) in loans for the COVID-19 response in Uzbekistan.

These funds are intended to increase the efficiency, sustainability, and transparency of resource allocation in the economy. The funds are also intended to enhance economic inclusion and social resilience by improving the residency registration system and increasing low-income family allowance.

The loan has an annual interest rate of 0.01% with a repayment period of 15 years.

Press release – Japan International Cooperation Agency

Japan hosts 'Vision Hacker Award' to support projects that tackle global health challenges

The Japanese non-profit organization ETIC (Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities), with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, organized the 'Vision Hacker Award' to support projects that tackle global challenges, such as addressing reproductive health, maternal and child health, mental health, infectious diseases.

This award aims to contribute to the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), 'Good Health and Well-Being'.

Three people will receive ¥3 million (US$28,000) and five people will receive ¥1 million (US$9,000).

The deadline for applying is April 15, 2021.

Press release - Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (in Japanese) 

Press release - Vision Hacker Award (in Japanese)

Japan’s House members form 'League of Legislators to Eliminate Malaria by 2030'

18 Japanese legislators, including members of both the upper and lower houses of the House of Representatives, formed the 'League of Legislators to Eliminate Malaria by 2030', which specializes in the worldwide elimination of malaria.

The federation of legislators aims to increase Japan’s international presence in the effort to eliminate malaria. The President will be Yasuhisa Shiozaki and the Secretary-General will be Masashi Kumano.

Japan has strengthened health systems abroad to address infectious diseases and has collaborated with the private sector to tackle HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Japan continues to contribute to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Press release – Malaria No More Japan

Dutch CSOs participate in virtual CSW65 to promote gender equality

From March 15-26, 2021, Atria (a Dutch knowledge institute “on gender equality and women’s history”) and Wo=Men (a Dutch platform that “fights for equal power relations between women, men and gender non-conforming people”) participated in the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65). The virtual CSW65 was held to promote gender equality and discuss challenges hindering women and girls from equal participation.   

Atria and Wo=Men, among other civil society organizations (CSOs) and UN leaders, joined in on daily strategy meetings to share knowledge with progressive women's rights networks from around the world and highlighted their own priorities to the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture, and Science, Esther van Dijk.

Continued work in gender equality is important, as Atria underlined that the Netherlands had fallen to 38th place in the World Economic Forum's 'Gender Gap Index' in 2019, 11 places lower than the previous year. According to Atria, the Netherlands' position in gender equality policy negotiations is progressive, advocating for protecting sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), improving sex education, and supporting youth and human rights organizations.

News article - Atria (in Dutch)  

News article - Wo=Men (in Dutch)  

Australia may provide domestic vaccine doses to Papua New Guinea

Media reports suggest that it is increasingly possible that Australia will supply vaccines to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from its domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Unpredictable vaccine deliveries from Europe have led Foreign Minister Marise Payne to indicate that locally-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses could be an option for supplying PNG. These doses are being produced by the Australian biotechnology company, CSL. Foreign assistance advocates have pressed the government to draw on domestic supplies, in the wake of the number of COVID-19 infections almost doubling in PNG in a week.

Vaccinations in PNG have been planned to commence in May 2021, with doses provided from the COVAX Facility, a global initiative co-led by the World Health Organization. However, India reportedly might also limit the export of those vaccine doses in order to meet local demand.

A PNG medical practitioner referred to the PNG health system as remaining in a “perpetual state of disaster”, with only one doctor for every 14,000 people.

News article - Australian Financial Review

News article - ABC Australia

European Parliament proposes putting human development at heart of new EU-Africa strategy

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) passed a parliamentary resolution with proposals that call for putting human development at the heart of the new EU-Africa strategy, as originally proposed by the European Commission in March 2020. This includes education issues such as training teachers, reducing the number of students leaving school early, and ensuring the inclusion of girls, as well as improving health care and national health systems. 

MEPs also called from moving away from the traditional donor-recipient relationship. They supported future cooperation on the green transition, energy, digital transformation, sustainable jobs, good governance, and migration. 

The resolution will help to inform the future joint EU-Africa strategy, which will be adopted by the EU and the African Union (AU) at the upcoming AU-EU Summit (to be scheduled). 

Press release - European Parliament

European Commission proposes frontloading funds in 2021-2027 long-term EU budget for EFSD+ for lower- and middle-income countries

The European Commission has proposed an amended EU budget for 2021 that will provide €700 million (US$847 million) for the provisioning of the European Fund for Sustainable Development plus (EFSD+), which will be financed through reductions for 2021 in the Africa, Asia, Americas, and Caribbean geographic budget lines of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). 

There will corresponding increases in the funding of those budget lines and corresponding decreases in funding for the EFSD+’s provisioning for the later years of the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework. 

The EFSD+ is a blended finance facility and the financial pillar of the European External Investment Plan to scale up private sector investment in the EU’s partner lower- and middle-income countries.

Draft amended budget - Council of the EU

Japan to promote forest conservation and enhance community climate resilience in Timor-Leste

The Green Climate Fund approved the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) 'Community-Based Landscape Management for Enhanced Climate Resilience and Reduction of Deforestation' project in Timor-Leste.

In Timor-Leste, forest cover declined from 74% in 2003 to 58% in 2012. This has led to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and more frequent floods and droughts. This project aims to reduce forest degradation and deforestation by applying the 'Community-Based Natural Resource Management' approach in 74 vulnerable communities, or about 48,000 people. This approach "promotes participatory natural resource management and provides more sustainable and climate-resilient livelihood options," putting communities at the center. 

This project is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by four million tons (CO2eq, or carbon dioxide equivalent) over 20 years.

Press release – Japan International Cooperation Agency

Japan provides US$96 million to reduce emission of greenhouse gases in India

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) announced plans to provide ¥10.0 billion (US$96 million) to Tata Cleantech Capital Limited (TCCL), an Indian non-banking financial company, for the 'Climate Change Management Project' in India.

India is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The loan will be used to finance businesses across India that focus on renewable energy generation, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency.

This loan will be provided through JICA’s 'Private Sector Investment Finance' scheme and is co-financed with the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

Press release – Japan International Cooperation Agency

Sweden develops new strategy for development cooperation with Ethiopia

On March 24, 2021, the Swedish government commissioned the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to develop the foundation for its new development cooperation strategy with Ethiopia.

The strategy will cover the period of 2022-2026 and support continued economic and democratic reforms, human rights, and peaceful and inclusive societies. The outcome of Ethiopia’s national elections in June 2021 will be important for the subsequent reform agenda and for the design of Sweden's future official development assistance (ODA).

The strategy will also focus on efforts to improve the environment, reduce the impacts of the climate crisis, and strengthen resilience to climate change. In its draft strategy, Sida is expected to address how Swedish ODA can help strengthen Ethiopia's resilience to crises affecting the environment and climate, peaceful societies, and livelihoods.

The recent conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has further deepened tensions in the country and resulted in widespread suffering and devastation, challenging the democratic and economic reform process initiated in 2018.

"We are deeply concerned about the situation in Ethiopia with the rising tensions," said Per Olsson Fridh, Minister for International Development Cooperation. "It is important that Sweden commits itself to contributing to peaceful and democratic development in Ethiopia and to strengthening the country's ability to deal with key challenges such as climate change and youth unemployment."

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)

Cuts to public research budget threaten UK government’s ambition of being science superpower

Leading UK academics and members of the parliament have urged the UK government to reverse its short- and long-term cuts to the UK public research budget. Academics and parliamentarians noted that the cuts risk thwarting the government’s ambition of being a science superpower in the coming decade, as outlined in its recently published Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

Critics of the government's approach, point to the immediate short-term costs of the intended 70% cut in 2021-22 to UK official development assistance (ODA) funded research, noting that it will jeopardize COVID-19 research programs underway, including those supporting genomic analysis, as well as studies of transmission and treatment.

However, they also point to long-term concerns regarding funding for the UK’s continued participation in the Horizon Europe research program. Previously, funding for UK participation came from its EU membership fees, but now that the UK has exited the EU, there is a large hole in the budget.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the main public science funding body, estimates that it could have to pay £2.0 billion (US$2.7 billion) a year from its current £8.5 billion (US$11.4 billion) budget to maintain British participation in the EU research program. Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of the UKRI, has noted, however, that UKRI is in active discussions with the government on how it can help to ensure the UK maintains engagement in the program.

News article - Financial Times

Sweden develops new strategy for sexual and reproductive health and rights with countries in sub-Saharan Africa

On March 24, 2021, the Swedish government commissioned the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to develop the foundation for a new, strengthened strategy for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The five-year strategy aims to cover the period of 2022-2026 and will total between SEK 2.5 billion and SEK 3.0 billion (US$300-360 million). This is an increase compared to the previous SRHR strategy, which amounted to about SEK 460 million (US$55 million) annually.

“Shortcomings in sexual and reproductive health and rights are one of the root causes of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Per Olsson Fridh, Minister for International Development Cooperation. “SRHR issues have become increasingly politicized in the region, and the pandemic has at the same time led to increased shortcomings in the SRHR area. Sweden has an important role to play in strengthening the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and men, girls and boys in Sub-Saharan Africa—as one of the few donors in this area, our assistance can make a difference."

In addition to strengthening the framework for SRHR, the new strategy will focus on increasing access to SRHR interventions, strengthening knowledge of SRHR, and changing social norms and strengthened accountability, with a special focus on the most deprived areas and the most vulnerable groups, including LGBTQI people.

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)

German development budget set to decrease, according to newly published financial plan

At a press conference on March 24, 2021, the German Federal Minister of Finance, Olaf Scholz, presented the budget caps for the 2022 federal budget bill and individual ministerial budgets, as well as the medium-term financial plan for 2023-2025.

Germany’s overall budget will stand at €419.8 billion (US$507.8 billion) in 2022, thus decreasing by 23% compared to 2021. According to the budget caps, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (BMZ’s) budget for 2022 is set to stand at €10.8 billion (US$13.1 billion)—a decrease of 13% compared to 2021 levels (which included €1.6 billion (US$1.9 billion) in additional COVD-19 funds). However, in a press release, Development Minister Gerd Müller has stated that €1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) in additional COVID-19 related funding will come on top of the 2022 BMZ’s budget, which would, thus, increase to a total of €12.3 billion (US$14.9 billion). This would put the BMZ’s 2022 budget on par with the 2021 budget levels.

In 2023, 2024, and 2025, the BMZ’s budget levels will decrease to €9.3 billion (US$11.3 billion) in 2023 and €9.2 billion (US$11.1 billion) in 2024 and 2025, respectively, according to the medium-term budget planning. Müller criticized the decrease, stating that the benchmark figures must be adjusted to meet the great challenges lying ahead. However, the publication of the budget caps marks only the first step in Germany’s budgetary process, and due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the budget caps are still volatile and are subject to change.

In the press conference, Scholz announced a further debt-financed supplementary budget for 2021 of €60.0 billion (US$72.6 billion), which will raise this year’s net borrowing figure to more than €240.0 billion (US$290.3 billion) due to the COVID-19 crisis. The majority of the supplementary funds are intended to provide additional short-term assistance for companies as well as to further fund the German Health Ministry's vaccine campaign. 

Press release – Federal Ministry of Finance (in German)

Press release – Federal Ministry of Finance (in German)

Canadian experts evaluate Canada's role in global health, ending tuberculosis

Canadian academics outlined in an op-ed how the global focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused progress on other infectious disease responses to suffer, specifically tuberculosis (TB).

The authors, Lena Faust and Alexandra Zimmer argued for the need for "a committed and co-ordinated Canadian response specific to tuberculosis".

To date, Canada has not met funding targets to globally eradicate TB, and domestically, there are high TB rates within Indigenous communities. Faust and Zimmer called on Canada to put forward a significant financial investment and to play a role in holding other countries responsible for working to eliminate TB.

Op-ed - Policy Options