Prioritizing Fragile and Conflict Affected States in a Post Pandemic World

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Fragile countries call for cooperation in battle against COVID-19

Prioritizing Fragile and Conflict Affected States in a Post Pandemic World

By Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, and Helder da Costa, General Secretary of the g7+ Secretariat 

Every country has been affected by the concurrent climate, pandemic and economic shocks of 2020. But they pose a severe threat to fragile and conflict affected states with specific needs that must be addressed in 2021. Already the least able to cope, these states urgently require leadership and collective responses at scale to mitigate the multifaceted impact of systemic shocks and build pathways to sustainable peace and prosperity.

One year into the Decade of Action, fragile and conflict-affected states are at a critical juncture. Even before the pandemic, the furthest behind were falling further behind on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2020, before COVID-19, the 57 fragile states identified by the OECD’s States of Fragility 2020 report were home to almost a quarter of the world population, but approximately three-quarters of all those living in extreme poverty globally. Thirteen extremely fragile states (including nine members of the g7+ group) were identified as being particularly at risk of being left behind from progress on sustainable development and peace relative to their peers. No fragile states are on track to meet the SDGs on hunger, health, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The combined impact of global shocks is increasing pressure in many fragile states where violence is already disproportionately concentrated. In 2019, 65% of the population of fragile states were exposed to active state-based conflict, while 14 of the top 20 states most affected by terrorism were fragile. Despite the ceasefire call issued by the UN Secretary General in April 2020 in response to the pandemic, violent conflict displaced 660,000 people between April and May alone, adding further burdens to fragile states already hosting half of the world’s refugees. Within these trends lie further layers of fragility. In addition to state based violence, there has been a spike in domestic violence, pointing to the long-lasting impact of COVID-19, deepening poverty, inequality and undermining protection in fragile and conflict-affected states. Reduction in daily incomes and remittances has caused financial stress for families who have no alternative means to livelihood. Falling oil prices  in the global market has hurt those fragile states that depend highly on revenue from oil and gas. Furthermore, the global economic impacts of the crisis make it uncertain whether official development assistance (ODA) volumes can rise or hold steady to meet growing needs.  

Confronting these multifaceted socio economic challenges requires urgent and coordinated responses across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. ODA is a critical resource for fragile and conflict –affected states. The latest available data shows that more net bilateral ODA – USD 76 billion – went to fragile contexts in 2018 than ever before, and in extremely fragile contexts, ODA amounted to 11.5 times the level of foreign direct investment (FDI) and 2.5 times the amount of remittances.   As financial pressures crystallise in 2021, ODA must be protected as best as possible. Finding and pursuing sustainable development pathways should be the overarching long-term goal of aid programmes. The sustainability of government and civil society financing, while challenging, is a critical component of this goal. All actors across the nexus must be involved to respond effectively to COVID-19, by supporting socio-economic development programmes; pursuing peacebuilding and conflict prevention; and delivering humanitarian aid when necessary. Protecting ODA alongside resourcing peacebuilding and conflict prevention is a way to address global inequalities.  Ensuring that the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine does not become another example of global inequality would be a positive signal of intent to fragile states in 2021.

The fragmentation of peacebuilding, state building and conflict prevention efforts, damages accountability and fosters dependence. DAC members spent 25% of their ODA on humanitarian assistance to fragile contexts but only 4% on prevention and 13% on peacebuilding in 2018. Current mechanisms for conflict prevention, peacebuilding and statebuilding at multilateral and local levels are often disjointed, projectised, overstretched, and under-resourced at a time when they are vital for mitigating the impact of global shocks. In recent years, this decline in international co-operation (particularly in peacekeeping), in preference for independent actions beyond multilateral structures, undermines operational effectiveness, political trust, legitimacy and sustainable local outcomes. Moving past ad hoc reactions to crises means introducing measures that respond earlier to signs of fragility and resilience and that nurture stability. For example, policy commitments for the equal and meaningful participation of women in conflict prevention and peacebuilding should address persistent shortfalls – between 1992 and 2018, women made up 3% of mediators, 13% of negotiators and 4% of signatories in major peace processes. Alongside groups such as g7+, international partners must respond to the voice of countries furthest behind.

There is much to be learned from analysing the impact of 2020’s shocks and many of the lessons point to the importance of refreshing existing structures and ideas. Examples of resilient capacity in areas such as social protection, point to gateways for building localised approaches that contribute to the development of social cohesion, peace and stability. Collective action on crisis coordination, prevention and peacebuilding, and the protection of global public goods, can be empowered through country-owned dialogue, reconciliation, and peer learning in fragile and conflict-affected states. The New Deal principles, endorsed a decade ago, matter more than ever. As exemplified in Sierra Leone and Somalia, when applied in the manner intended, they have proven to be an effective framework for cohesive approaches to building peace and stability. Innovative thinking on accountability is reshaping the conversation on national ownership with the potential to renew the operational implementation of the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals of the New Deal. The insight of organisations such as g7+ in fora such as the UN General Assembly and the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding,  will be critical to renew statebuilding, prioritise conflict sensitivity, and support national institutions to manage the effects of the crisis while capitalising on opportunities to build back better.

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