Group info

Donors Seek to do Better in Fragile States

More info
3 February 2011

Fragile and conflict-ridden states absorb more than a third of all overseas development assistance but have failed to attain a single Millennium Development Goal. Donor’s lack of commitment to long-term strategies is part of the problem, according to a new report prepared by the World Bank.

"No low income, fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single Millennium Development Goal," was one of the key messages put forward during an early presentation of the World Development Report 2011 at the European Union Development Days in December.


WDR 2011

Due for publication later this year, the 33rd edition of the World Bank's WDR entitled ‘Conflict, Security and Development’ assesses the consequences of conflict on economic development across the world. During the EU Development Days the report findings were presented for discussion.

"More than a third of overseas development assistance is flowing into fragile states or states involved in conflict of some kind," said Nicholas van Praag, Communications Manager at the World Bank. "However, it's going into an environment which is not particularly hospitable. Therefore its impact is well below the kind of effectiveness we would like to see."Nicholas Van Praag

The report analyses this problem and suggests ways forward by looking both at the causes of violence and the support provided by the international community to help effectively resolve conflict situations. The first two chapters examine the trends and causes of violence respectively.

The trends in violence today show that the focus has shifted away from civil wars to several different types of violence with strong links between them, including: trafficking, gang wars and politically organised crime.

One of the studies found that in Central American countries recovering from civil war, homicide rates have increased; in other words more people are dying now than during the wars themselves.

The cause of such violence is often blamed on a single problem, for example a lack of jobs or economic hard-times. However, the WDR 2011 findings show that in fact it's a combination of these problems, coupled with weak institutions, which results in conflict.

The report recommends that the emphasis must be on building confidence and transforming institutions. To try and understand the reform process, the team working on the report have developed a new framework.

"We need to move away from the Tolstoyan view of war and peace as being two opposite states with a linear relationship between them," said Mr van Praag.

Instead, the report proposes a complex trajectory with several transition points between "war and peace".  This critical path is captured in a helix-like conceptual framework outlined in the Report – with the situation revolving through a set of transition points, each of which needs to be anticipated and acted upon. There is no make or break moment, according to Mr van Praag, the role of the international community during this reform process is extremely important. However, the report also identifies a number of shortcomings in the way international aid is provided.

One relates to the timeframe for reform. A study undertaken for the WDR looks at the 20 fastest reformers of the 20th Century, tracking how long it took these countries to transform their institutions. The answer is more than a generation; sometimes two.

"In other words, in the best case it takes more than a generation to move this institutional transformation along," said Mr van Praag. "We talk about moving out of Afghanistan by 2014. These are the kinds of pledges which are made to the public but they bare little relationship to the kinds of timeframes that we've seen as being realistic."

Giorgia Giovannetti

However, the international community is often only prepared to provide aid for a short period of time. Speaking also at the presentation of the WDR 2011, Giorgia Giovannetti, the Scientific Director for the European Report on Development commented on this. "Short-term policies do not overcome fragility, but with a long-term fund you can. It's very important that you have an issue of commitment on both ends and that you have funds which are granted for a long period."

Given the recent financial crisis a long-term commitment is not always possible. Several developed countries are struggling with a dual accountability to both their citizens and the citizens of the recipient country; with budgetary problems at home they may not be able to provide a long-term commitment to aid in the developing world.

"I think the biggest cost of inactivity is that it contributes to the persistence of the development gap," said Dr Giovannetti.

The financial cost of inaction is also extremely high. According to World Bank figures, civil wars can cost the world in the range of US $65 billion each (approximately 47 billion Euros).

The WDR 2011 is due for publication in early April 2011 to coincide with the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. For more information, please visit

Ms Giovannetti was also interviewed on the European Development Report. To see this article please click here.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

Register or log in to comment

Do more through capacity4dev