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Speeches & Transcripts March 7, 2022

Remarks by World Bank Group President David Malpass at Fragility Forum 2022: Development and Peace in Uncertain Times

Thank you for having me open this year’s Fragility Forum. Welcome to all the participants and thanks to speakers, panelists, and organizers.

The event this year takes place as a violent war is unfolding in Eastern Europe.

There are no words to express the horror of the Ukrainian people. At the World Bank Group, we are doing everything we can to assist Ukraine and the region.  These are seismic changes in Europe and likely in the world.  It is causing the largest refugee flow in Europe since WW2.  It will have a massive impact on energy, grain markets and food insecurity; each development has serious negative consequences in developing countries. We’re assessing the consequences and how the WBG can respond, both in eastern Europe and in fragile countries around the world.

Conflicts around the world are having far-reaching social and economic impacts. – in Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, to name a few –

I am hoping this Fragility Forum will confront challenges and provide new ideas on how the international community can more effectively help people facing conflict and fragility.

The recent trends are disheartening and tragic. Since we had the last Forum two years ago, fragility, conflict-related fatalities, and social unrest have increased dramatically.

We estimate that 23 countries – with a combined population of 850 million people – currently face high- or medium-intensity conflict. The number of “conflict countries” has doubled over the past decade. This has triggered massive refugee flows.

Beyond the tragic human cost, fragility, conflict, and violence threatens efforts to end extreme poverty. Over 300 million people in these settings experienced acute food insecurity in 2021.

Conflict, fragility, and violence cut across all income groups and the poor are the most affected. They add to the damage caused by COVID-19 and now by the war in Ukraine. Our estimates show that hundreds of millions of families are suffering reversals in development and the most significant economic crisis in almost a century. 

Indicators of poverty, growth, inequality, nutrition, education, and security are all rapidly deteriorating rather than improving as we would hope in a developing world. In addition, rising inflation and interest rates are hitting the world’s poorest the hardest.

The global landscape is increasingly complex and includes long-standing and new challenges to peace, development, and prosperity.

First, we are living in a world where protracted armed conflict keeps increasing, as we have seen in the Middle East and Africa, where immensely destructive impacts are reversing decades of progress in development.

Second, the pandemic has hit societies that are already in turmoil, food systems that are already impacted by climate change, and populations already displaced by conflict. Our estimates show that because of COVID-19, about 20 million more people in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence are now living in extreme poverty.

Third, climate change is a threat multiplier. It’s placing major strain on economies and societies, particularly in fragile settings. And while adaptation is key to minimizing the negative consequences of climate change, countries affected by conflict and fragility face considerable challenges in mobilizing funds.

And equally worrying are the new acute and destabilizing political crises, including coups d’états, as well as the ‘unfreezing’ of old conflicts and the emergence of new inter-state wars.

Addressing the challenges of fragility, conflict and violence requires strengthened international cooperation and deeper collaboration with governments, civil society, and the affected populations themselves.

The delivery of weapons that enter fragile and conflict-affected situations must be stopped and the overhang of firearms and landmines left from previous outbreaks of violence must be reduced. A reduction in tensions also requires stricter regulation of international security contractors.

Focused international agreements should bolster human and economic development in fragile and conflict-affected situations, providing them with access to affordable medicines and basic services.

The macroeconomic response to inflation must avoid taking the developing world into a new phase of economic turbulence. And workable mechanisms should be adopted to restructure the debts of the poorest countries, increase the transparency of their terms and reduce the burden on people in these countries.

Over the last decade, the international community has been working across the humanitarian, peacebuilding, and development agendas, recognizing that sustainable peace is no longer a matter of just ending wars. Rather, it means addressing complex political, social, and economic drivers of conflict.

Collectively, we have made progress, but it is not enough. A key part of this is broadening our partnerships and collaboration at country level. We need to work hand-in-hand not only with governments, but also with civil society, the private sector, and directly with communities.

For example, the World Bank Group’s support to Yemen has been implemented for years in concert with long-standing partners at the United Nations and local organizations. This is how we've been able to strengthen the country's health systems, restore electricity, provide cash transfers, and support displaced populations.

The World Bank Group has been active in fragile settings from our very inception and the support to countries affected by FCV has deepened over the last decade.

Most recently, over the last four years, we nearly doubled our footprint in fragile locations, reaching over 1,200 staff at present. The World Bank has significantly increased its support to countries affected by fragility and conflict, from $3.9 billion in FY16 to $15.8 billion in FY21. A huge increase.

Our current FCV Strategy provides a basis for differentiating our response at every stage of fragility and conflict: helping prevent or mitigate risks in fragile environments; ensuring that we remain engaged in active crises and conflicts; and working to ensure sustainable recovery in post-crisis transitions.

This strategy has given us the basis for a new generation of policies, analytical, and operational tools.

This year’s Fragility Forum provides all of us an opportunity to take stock of the current state of fragility in the world, and to identify priority issues going forward.

I hope that the discussions during the Forum will help deepen our understanding of challenges related to fragility and set the concrete actions and priorities for the international community, for governments, and for people working to reverse the alarming trends we are seeing now.

Thank you and I wish you all a good discussion today.