Ending Extreme Poverty Hinges on Progress in Fragile and Conflict-affected Situations

April 30, 2013

  • Ending extreme poverty will mean addressing problems of fragile and conflict-affected countries where human development lags the rest of the world.
  • More than 1.5 billion people live in places affected by conflict and violence.
  • World Bank’s year-old Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development brings expertise and research-based solutions to difficult and often dangerous environments.

April 30, 2013–What will it take to end extreme poverty by 2030? Part of the answer revolves around fragile and conflict-affected situations – “situations” because sometimes otherwise stable countries have fragile regions or provinces. More than 1.5 billion people live in places affected by conflict and extreme violence, where governments can’t fully function, and progress in achieving basic human development outcomes is stalled. The poverty rate is typically high and economic growth low. They seriously lag the rest of the world in progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and are in danger of being left further behind as other developing countries grow and become more integrated in the global economy.

But such countries and regions should not “be viewed as basket cases,” says World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“We know there’s no quick fix,” says Dr. Kim in a blog, Five Steps to Help Fragile Countries. “The task is to understand what drives conflicts; move quickly and with flexibility on priority initiatives; deliver early results; create jobs; and help coordinate all the players in development. Fragile states can be lifted out of their fragility… We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

At the just-completed Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, the Development Committee representing 188 member countries backed the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and urged a strong replenishment of the Bank’s fund for the poorest – the International Development Association (IDA) –especially in support of the world’s fragile states, where the challenges are greatest.

Dr. Kim joins experts focusing on the issues facing such countries this week at the World Bank’s Fragility Forum in Washington, where he will participate in the May 1 opening session: Stop Conflict, Reduce Fragility, End Poverty. 

‘It’s About How You Get Things Done’

The 2011 World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development found building institutions can take 20 or 30 years—a generation. It calls for focusing development assistance on citizen security, justice, jobs, and building legitimate institutions that can prevent repeated violence.

In response, IDA has made addressing conflict and fragility a priority. The Bank Group also established the Center on Conflict, Security and Development in 2011 with staff in Washington, DC, and in Nairobi, Kenya, to bring a cadre of development specialists closer to many of the world’s fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS). Headed by Joel Hellman, , it has been dispatching experts as needed and has worked with 23 World Bank Group teams stationed in fragile states..

“The issue is  really about how you get things done,” says Caroline Anstey, Managing Director. “How you take an education project, a roads project, a health project, and create systems to help those benefits get to the peoplewho need them –and doing it in a country where the regular systems we rely upon often don’t work; that’s why they’re fragile.”

" We had to move quickly when we had new opportunities to engage "

Bella Bird

Country Director for Somalia

Re-engaging in Mali and Somalia

After the March 2012 coup d’etat in Mali, the Center brought together staff working in the Sahel countries (Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger and Senegal) to talk about the regional drivers of conflict in Mali and throughout the region, and how to “work differently” to increase development effectiveness. Ousmane Diagana, the Bank’s Country Director for Mali, says the Bank anticipates bringing wider-ranging and more effective assistance as it re-engages with the country.

"Following the liberation of almost all the big cities in North Mali, we are seeing the possibility to expand geographical coverage of our program, to make it more responsive to the local needs and to deliver bigger and faster,” says Diagana. “This requires use of innovative instruments to support the government modeling, to re-establish relationships and the functioning of public services country wide with special attention to the north."

The Bank is also returning to Somalia after scaling back amid political uncertainty.

“We had to move quickly when we had new opportunities to engage,” says Bella Bird, Country Director for Somalia. “One of the most urgent things in Somalia is to create a public financial management framework and allow the Somali government to gain access to other donor funds while they gradually gain control of their own sources of revenue.”

Accelerating Progress

The goal throughout fragile areas is to build on and accelerate progress. From 2000 to 2012, IDA financing helped 550,000 former soldiers reintegrate into society. Many found work through projects that funded 17 million person-days of employment to restore or provide new access to water, roads and other infrastructure. Some 2 million classrooms were built with IDA funding.

In Burundi, a pioneering pay-for-performance health program backed by IDA provides free health care to mothers and young children. Recent changes incentivized health clinics to reach out to underserved communities; the result has been a 25 percent increase in births attended by skilled professionals at health clinics, and a 10.2 percent increase in the number of children fully vaccinated. 

In Burundi, Myanmar and Nepal, the World Bank Group plans to boost employment and private sector development by bringing together the full range of services of three agencies: IDA; IFC, the private investment arm; and MIGA, which provides political risk insurance to investors.

In Myanmar, it’s adding 120 megawatts of electricity—enough power for an additional 5 million people—to further develop the sector, transform lives and the economy in a country where currently only one in four has access to electricity. IFC is considering investments that would bring total development of additional electric power capacity to 300 megawatts.

Axel van Trotsenburg, the Bank’s Vice President for East Asia and Pacific region, said in a recent blog that dramatic political and economic changes are sweeping Myanmar. “There is a sense of hope, and expectations are growing that people’s lives will soon improve.”

Fragile States Speak Up Through the g7+

And, fragile countries across the globe are speaking up about how aid can be used more effectively to speed progress elsewhere, as part of a new group –the g7+ – formed in 2011 to develop a new paradigm – the New Deal – to improve the impact of assistance in fragile countries.

 “g7+ countries are getting together themselves and talking about their own experiences, what they learned, and how they can learn from each other about exiting fragility,” says Kyle Peters, the Bank’s Vice President of Operations Policy and Country Services.  “We fully support this effort because it’s critical for them to learn from each other and to develop solutions from their own experience.”