Despite enormous gains in poverty reduction and a long, steady drop in global violence over the past 70 years, progress is stubbornly stalled in those states considered most fragile. In the last decade, rising levels of violent conflict in states and regions like Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, and East Africa have spawned four civil wars, the specter of four famines, and historic numbers of people displaced by violence, all of which are straining the global humanitarian system and threatening precious development gains. The world has responded with ever-larger packages of humanitarian, military, and peacekeeping action. What remains missing, however, is a concerted focus on the underlying dynamics of fragility, which will ultimately require a different way of doing business and, importantly, a shared blueprint for action among political, security, development, and humanitarian actors.
Over the past decade, global communities of policymakers, researchers, and practitioners have increasingly understood that the causes of violence and civil war are rooted in fragility, with a growing consensus on key points of action. Now, with the global system straining from multiple crises, the time is right to build on these early steps to eliminate extreme poverty and build a more secure peaceful and inclusive global community.
At its core, fragility is the absence or breakdown of the social contract between people and their government. Fragile states suffer deficits of institutional capacity and political legitimacy that increase the risk of instability and violent conflict, sapping the state of resilience to disruptive shocks.
The source of this state-society dysfunction—fragility—can be an absence of legitimacy, effectiveness, or both. Legitimacy is weakened when institutions are not inclusive or responsive to all identity groups, including minority and marginalized populations. Repressive, corrupt states undermine citizen confidence in government. Effectiveness is diminished when state-society interactions fail to meet their citizens’ needs and expectations for security, health, economic well- being, and social welfare. High levels of fragility—whether caused by ineffectiveness, illegitimacy, or both—create enabling conditions for armed conflict and political instability.
Read more: Handle with care: The challenge of fragility