Poverty and FragilityThe year 2020’s biennial World Bank Fragility Forum is a series of seminars and discussions about working to build peace and stability in conflict-ridden areas. It brings together policymakers and practitioners in many different sectors from around the world, including the government, to address poverty and fragility and use international aid to promote peace in fragile settings. The Forum exists in conjunction with the World Bank Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence for 2020-2025 and focuses on fighting poverty as a means to eliminate conflict and violence in fragile settings, acknowledging and addressing the link between poverty and fragility.

What is Fragility?

There is no simple definition for a fragile setting or context since each fragile region is circumstantially unique. The Fragile States Index (FSI), though, says there are many common indicators that include state loss of physical control of territory or social legitimacy, loss of state monopoly on legitimate force, loss of connection to the international community and an inability to provide basic public services. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also explains that there are common characteristics of fragile settings, like extreme poverty, authoritarian regimes, high rates of terrorism, high rates of armed conflict and short life expectancy. The majority of fragile settings currently exist in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Fragile States Index lists Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan as the three most fragile contexts in the world.

Poverty and Fragility

The World Bank explains that addressing poverty and fragility go hand-in-hand. While only 10% of the global population live in fragile contexts, more than two-thirds of the people around the globe who live in extreme poverty live in fragile contexts. Experts expect this figure to rise to 80% by 2030. Poverty and fragility exist in a sort of feedback loop, as it becomes more difficult to escape poverty in a fragile setting given poor living conditions and likely economic ruin, while poverty is also an initial driver of fragility. Global Washington reports that fragility hurts economic productivity – violent conflict caused a 12.4% decrease in economic activity in 2017 alone – and is the main driver of both global hunger and refugee crises.

Fragility Forum Highlights

Three lectures from the Forum in particular address key components of poverty and fragility by looking at case studies: the social and economic inclusion of refugees, the use of country platforms to increase the effectiveness of global aid and the effectiveness of existing economic programs in fragile contexts. These lectures were:

  1. Refugee Policies: Increasing Self-Reliance & Economic Inclusion in Protracted Crises – Around 80% of refugees today live in developing countries and, as Global Washington reports, the violence and conflict of a fragile region are the main drivers of forced migration. Lecturers in this session explained that aid to refugees and their host countries must address both the immediate needs of refugees with investment in basic needs like healthcare and in long-term, policy for economic and social inclusion of refugees in their host countries. Refugees currently do not have permission to work in 50% of host countries and refugee mobility is severely restricted across the globe. This makes refugees dependent on aid from international agencies like the U.N. Economic self-sufficiency for refugees shifts the responsibility from these international bodies to the host country and both enhances the living situation of refugees and develops the host country’s economy. The Senior Director of Fragility, Conflict and Violence at the World Bank Franck Bousquet explains in the lecture that the World Bank focuses largely on support to the host country and strengthening national systems through emergency response programs and using grants to incentivize host countries to include refugees in their economies.
  2. Reducing Fragility and Conflict: What We Are Learning from Impact Evaluations – This lecture looks at the impact of a wide range of interventions in fragile settings from behavioral studies on social interventions to how labor market programs and economic intervention can increase stability in fragile settings by creating a market opportunity for individuals through vocational training. One particular study in Liberia explored the claim that economic insecurity can encourage violent or criminal behaviors in individuals. The study also explored how giving impoverished Liberians agricultural training increased the employment and average wealth of the individuals in the study, the root connection between economic opportunity and criminal activity, large-scale questions about what motivates violence and whether poverty causes criminality. The theory that underwent testing hypothesizes that increased economic returns to noncriminal activities will minimize the incidence of criminal activities by occupying individuals’ time, building social skills in youth and reducing grievances with poor economic opportunities. The study found that vocational training can decrease the time that individuals spend on illicit activities, but found little effect on individuals’ attitudes about democracy and violence.
  3. Revisiting Development Cooperation in the Hardest Places: The Case of Somalia – This session discussed “country platforms,” which the featured Center for Global Development (CGD) podcast defined as a “government-let coordinating body that brings together partners and stakeholders to define shared goals and coordinate development efforts in the country.” Places like Afghanistan and Somalia have utilized these country platforms, which are part of the World Bank’s Strategy for Fragility, Stability and Violence for 2020-2021, to streamline aid efforts by encouraging collaboration and joining local government and civic leaders with international donors to better implement international aid projects in fragile settings. Country platforms allow for more streamlined and effective flow from a donor to the recipient country, as evidenced by the organizational progress made in Somalia, where the U.S. invested over $400 million in aid in 2019; the country platform in Somalia has been developing clearer plans for development, humanitarianism and politics and shifting control of aid efforts into the hands of the Somali government to both increase aid efficiency and promote state legitimacy.

The World Bank Fragility Forum has made the link between poverty and fragility apparent. Hopefully, an increased understanding of how these two topics interlink will help eliminate poverty in fragile settings.

Emily Rahhal
Photo: Wikimedia