Global development efforts should increase focus on fragile states in light of COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating inequality, poverty and insecurity in vulnerable, or fragile, countries and territories, making it more important than ever to focus development efforts on such places, according to a new OECD report.

States of Fragility 2020 finds that progress on several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including the crucial Goal 16 relating to peace, justice and strong institutions – has stagnated or declined in fragile locations in recent years. The coronavirus crisis is hurting incomes and stability in already poor and vulnerable countries, as well as health and education – two key building blocks of sustainable development in fragile states.

“COVID-19 is a global systemic shock that is exacerbating fragility and risks, holding back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “As we continue to fight the worst health, economic and social crisis in nearly a century, we must put people at the centre of our development co-operation efforts on addressing fragility.”

Defining fragility as the combination of exposure to risk in five areas – economic, environmental, political, social and security – and the insufficient capacity of the state or system to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks, the OECD estimates that 23% of the world’s population, and 77% of those classified before COVID-19 as extremely poor, live in “fragile” contexts. The report finds only small improvements in fragility in the 57 countries and territories it examines.

COVID-19 is adding to economic, health and societal vulnerabilities, exacerbating existing pressures driving fragility, conflict and violence, the report says. In places where violence is prevailing or increasing, mitigating the impact of COVID-19 will require greater peacebuilding efforts. Initial pandemic response measures taken by governments in some fragile locations risk compounding poverty, inequality, social fragmentation and political repression, thus adding to the root causes of conflict and fragility.

The report notes that Official Development Assistance (ODA) has become an important source of support to help fragile states onto sustainable and self-reliant pathways. It calls for it to be protected and renewed to meet the challenges of the post-COVID-19 world, particularly as measures imposed to limit the spread of the virus are affecting the ability of civil society, multilateral and humanitarian organisations to operate in fragile locations.

From 2010 to 2018, members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) increased their bilateral assistance to priority sectors in fragile places, both in volume and as a proportion of total ODA. Humanitarian ODA also rose by 44% in the same period. Yet ODA for peace remains low compared to humanitarian and development finance. DAC members spent 25% of their ODA to fragile contexts on humanitarian assistance in 2018 but only 4% and 13% respectively on prevention and peacebuilding.

The report says there is a need to focus more financing on targeting the underlying drivers of fragility. Addressing fragility also requires an approach based on local needs, priorities and resilience.

Read the report at https://www.oecd.org/development/states-of-fragility-fa5a6770-en.htm.

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