Fragile states and the search for ‘what works’

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The question of “what works” to help fragile countries out of decades of conflict, strife, and disaster has proven elusive. Despite global progress in poverty reduction, health, education, and the economy, fragile states are poised to be left behind by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the same way they were left behind by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Conflict is increasingly concentrated in these contexts, which also have the highest vulnerability to disasters, pandemic and global price shocks. By 2030, the endpoint of the SDGs, an estimated 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor will live in these volatile countries. The U.N. Secretary-General has warned that climate change and environmental degradation are key risk multipliers for fragile states and vulnerable regions. The search for new solutions and approaches in the face of fragility has never been so urgent.

Pathways Out of Fragility
The World Development Report on Governance and the Law (WDR) provides a reality check that today’s most peaceful and advanced economies, including Europe, were once inundated by war and violent contests of power. It notes these countries were in fact “fragile states for most of their historical trajectory.” The path out of fragility is long, winding, and not preordained.
The WDR notes that the world’s most advanced economies are more the product of avoiding or managing major crisis and conflict than of achieving periods of accelerated growth. Over long stretches of trial and error, they were able to establish resilient political settlements and institutions and the social norms and national identities for cooperation and constraint. The fundamental question is whether development partners can help fragile states to leapfrog decades of crisis, war, and destitution on a path to peaceful, just, and inclusive institutions and resilient political orders.
In between paradigms
The current aid paradigm to support fragile states focuses on promoting economic growth and eradicating …

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