Large parts of the world are growing more fragile. Here are 5 steps to reverse course

UN Liberia

UN peacekeepers in Liberia. Photo: UNMIL/Staton Winter

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Robert Muggah, Co-founder, Igarape Institute and SecDev Group

There are ominous signs of growing turbulence around the world. The number of civil wars has doubled since 2001 – ​jumping ​from 30 to 70. The number of people killed in these armed conflicts has increased tenfold since 2005. And there are more refugees and internally displaced people around the world than at any time since the Second World War.

According to a new report, States of Fragility, the rising prevalence of conflict, crime, terrorism and deepening geopolitical volatility are also contributing to ripples of fragility. These challenges are especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Central and South Asia.

Organized violence is a necessary but insufficient condition of fragility. Fragile states and cities experience a toxic combination of creeping authoritarianism, sluggish growth, deteriorating institutions, and in many cases, social unrest. They face multiplying risks and diminished coping capacities to manage, absorb and mitigate them.

Fragile countries and cities are often trapped – unable to progress but also hovering just below the threshold of outright warfare. To wit, 19 of the 27 countries routinely described as chronically fragile over the past decade by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are not mired in armed conflict.

Fragility is not evenly distributed geographically. While all countries and cities are susceptible, fragility is overwhelmingly concentrated in low- and middle-income countries, municipalities and neighbourhoods. Roughly 17 of the 27 most fragile countries listed by the OECD are low-income, nine are medium-income and one is registered as high-income.

The sheer scale of fragility is breathtaking. Presently, 72% of all people living in extreme poverty reside in fragile settings. If current trends persist, more than 80% of the world’s poorest populations will live in these fragile contexts by 2030. Fragility, then, constitutes a major obstacle to national progress, as well as to global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There are also many shades of fragility. The OECD, for example, distinguishes between political, economic, environmental, security and societal fragility. Taking this broader perspective, the organization claims that there are as many as 58 fragile contexts (which include countries and territories), some of them more at risk than others.

According to the OECD, a few countries struggle with persistent fragility – notably the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. And while some countries exited fragility in 2018 – notably Cambodia and Lesotho – others experienced sharp declines, including Cameroon, DRC, Egypt, Libya, Tajikistan and Pakistan.

While not a permanent condition, fragility is difficult to shake off. Despite expectations to the contrary, poverty reduction and economic growth alone do not necessarily lead to a virtuous circle of institutional transformation and sustainable development. The opposite often occurs: rapid economic growth that is not paired with rising incomes, widespread employment and greater political voice can be deeply disruptive.

Likewise, strengthening the authority and legitimacy of central government institutions can also be counterproductive, since this can unintentionally entrench grievances from below. There is no doubt that improving the quality of governance is central. But efforts to promote development in fragile settings must be approached with extreme caution, since they can have unintended violence-increasing effects.

The transition from fragile to more stable conditions can take time. While rapid turn-arounds are desirable, the World Bank estimates that it takes between 20 and 40 years to reverse fragility. More positively, countries and cities can, and often do, move out of fragility. More than a dozen states have exited the fragility rankings over the past decade.

If countries and cities are to escape fragility, they will need to tap financial flows to positive effect. In 2016, all 58 fragile settings received some $68.2 billion in overseas development assistance (ODA) – about two thirds of all such assistance provided globally – and another $170 billion in remittances and foreign direct investment.

While there is no single cure, there are several ways to reduce the many factors giving rise to fragility. A series of policy processes, principles and protocols – many of them now championed by fragile states themselves – lay out strategies to promote stability and resilience. The latest States of Fragility report adds a few more ideas to the mix.

First, develop smarter data-driven tools to understand, anticipate and respond better to fragility. While global awareness of fragility is expanding, there are still real knowledge gaps about how it is distributed and experienced. Too little is known about sub-national – and especially urban – dynamics of fragility​. Not enough is known about informal networks, institutions and economies that shape day-to-day realities. Without improvements in diagnosing fragility, a cure will remain elusive.

Second, redouble investment in conflict prevention and peace-building, particularly at the metropolitan scale. Global investment in preventing conflict reached a high-water mark in 2010. That year, the world registered the fewest number of armed conflicts in a generation. Yet ODA investments in conflict prevention and peace-building nose-dived to just 2% of total official development spending by 2016. While diverse sources of financial support are necessary, ODA is still key to incentivizing progress and rewarding results. It is important that aid agencies incentivize a higher tolerance for risk, since fragile situations are some of the hardest settings in which to generate results.

Third, provide targeted support to national and sub-national governments in fragile settings to strengthen inclusive governance and better deliver services. Donors are frequently tempted to bypass weaker governments and create parallel aid structures. Yet to be effective, local public and private authorities need to be in the drivers seat. Outside support should promote localization of decision-making powers, strengthen domestic resource mobilization and budget management skills, and promote small and medium enterprises. Partners would do well to develop mutual accountability frameworks to ensure that everyone is living up to their commitments.

Fourth, create the enabling conditions to expand remittance flows to fragile countries and cities. In 2016, at least $110 billion was sent home as remittances to 58 fragile contexts – almost twice the value of all ODA. Of that, just $10 billion was directed to 15 extremely fragile settings. The transfer of remittances to these underserviced areas is frequently impeded by highly restrictive sanctions regimes, constraints on the right of refugees to work, and the comparatively limited earning potential of diasporas in areas where they are settled. Creating conditions to facilitate rather than stifle remittances is essential to reversing fragility.

Finally, diversify foreign direct investment in fragile settings. The bulk of current investment in fragile contexts is in natural resource extraction, especially oil, gas and mineral wealth. Investors should be incentivized to diversify their portfolios, including into consumer goods and services. This requires support to improve the regulatory environment, strengthen institutions, improve infrastructure and energy distribution, reduce corruption and de-risk investments in fragile settings. The good news is that ODA can potentially help catalyse foreign investment and blended financing.

Fragility is not going away. The future of sustainable development hinges on how well the international community engages with fragile states and cities. A systems level approach – one that accounts for the convergence of conflict, terrorism, climate risks, illicit economies and rapid urbanization – is essential. To be effective, overseas development assistance will need to be more strategically allocated and greater efforts will be required to unlock the potential of remittances and foreign direct investment. And if lasting improvements are to be made, a renewed commitment on preventive action is necessary.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

New EU rules ensure better protection for 120 million holidaymakers this summer

European Border and Coast Guard: 10 000-strong standing corps by 2027

Google succumbs unconditionally to EU’s “right to be forgotten” ruling

COVID-19 will hit the developing world’s cities hardest. Here’s why

Tributes for ‘role model’ former UN refugee agency chief, Sadako Ogata

The big five EU telecom operators in dire straights

AI can wreak havoc if left unchecked by humans

Clamp down on illegal trade in pets, urge Public Health Committee MEPs

As conflicts become more complex, ‘mediation is no longer an option; it is a necessity’, UN chief tells Security Council

We are ‘burning up our future’, UN’s Bachelet tells Human Rights Council

Hydrogen isn’t the fuel of the future. It’s already here

5 ways COVID-19 has changed workforce management

Terrorism and migrants: the two awful nightmares for Europe and Germany in 2016

EU job-search aid worth €2 million for 500 former shipbuilding workers in Spain

France pushes UK to stay and Germany to pay

Where EU air pollution is deadliest

China rare earth prices soar on their potential role in trade war

Harmonised Unemployment Rates (HURs), OECD – Updated: February 2020

UN spotlights wellbeing of seafarers on International Day

‘Much more’ can be done to raise awareness about the plight of persons with albinism: UN chief

UN-backed intercultural dialogue forum urged to keep working to ‘bridge gap between the like-minded’

EU joint response to disasters: deal reached with Council

Combatting terrorism: Parliament sets out proposals for a new EU strategy

This South Korean city once had the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside of China. Now it’s reported zero new cases

Commission moves to ensure supply of personal protective equipment in the European Union

5 crises that could worsen under COVID-19

Finland has just published everyone’s taxes on ‘National Jealousy Day’

ITU Telecom World 2017: exploring smart digital transformation

European Parliament calls on Russia to end occupation of Georgian territories

5 neuroscience hacks that will make you happier

RescEU: MEPs vote to upgrade EU civil protection capacity

All for equality – 2020 is a pivotal year for Gender Equality

Deeper reforms in Korea will ensure more inclusive and sustainable growth

UN Climate Action Summit concludes with insufficient EU and global pledges

Milk, fruits and vegetables distributed to schoolchildren thanks to EU programme

China’s cities are rapidly becoming more competitive. Here’s why

Security Council must ‘come together’ to address the plight of children trapped in armed conflict, says UN envoy

EU Migrant Crisis: Italian Coast Guard Headquarters and Italian Navy to give host national opening addresses at Border Security 2016 in Rome

New EU-UK agreement is welcome but thorough scrutiny remains, insist lead MEPs

Coal addiction ‘must be overcome’ to ease climate change, UN chief says in Bangkok

EU27 leaders unite on Brexit Guidelines ahead of “tough negotiations” with Theresa May

How to get young people in Europe to swipe right on voting

This is Amsterdam’s ambitious plan to turn its transport electric

Reforms in Latvia must result in stronger enforcement to tackle foreign bribery and subsequent money laundering risks

Parliament boosts consumer rights online and offline

What is systemic racism, and how can we combat it?

EU Council approves visa-free travel for Ukraine and cement ties with Kiev

Powering a climate-neutral economy: Commission sets out plans for the energy system of the future and clean hydrogen

Marginalized groups hit hardest by inequality and stigma in cities

OECD joins with Japan to fight financial crime by establishing new academy

The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming

EU Parliament and Council: Close to agreement on the bank resolution mechanism

Poor quality is healthcare’s silent killer. Here’s what we can do about it

ECB asks for more subsidies to banks

Global trade is broken. Here are five ways to rebuild it

Intervene, don’t overthink – the new mantra of systems design

We need natural solutions to fight ocean and climate risk

EU Parliament: No EU-US trade agreement without safe data

The MWC14 Sting Special Edition

Italy and Greece zeroed their fiscal deficits, expect Germany’s response

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s