Poverty, instability and violence in fragile states

Supporters of the deposed president José Manuel Zelaya coming under fire from the Honduran army in 2009
Around 1.5 billion people live in countries where violence is part of everyday life. ©Laif/Redux-Stephen Ferry (Honduras, 2009)

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines fragility as ‘the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks’. Fragility is generally conceptualised in relation to five dimensions: economic, environmental, political, security and social.

The term is commonly used by international actors to describe situations in which state institutions are weak or unstable and where poverty, violence, corruption and political arbitrariness are features of everyday life. State structures are either unable or unwilling to carry out core governance functions with regard to security, the rule of law and public service delivery. The country’s authorities often fail to develop mutually constructive relations with its citizens.

An obstacle in the fight against poverty

State fragility is one of the main obstacles to effective, sustainable efforts to combat poverty. There are more than 40 fragile states in the world today. Around 1.5 billion people live in fragile countries and regions. They are frequently among the world’s poorest – and often suffer from both poverty and the impact of violent conflict.

The international community has doubled the financial support provided to fragile states in the past 10 years. Donor countries have recognised the adverse impacts a fragile or conflict-affected environment can have on combating poverty and insecurity in the country concerned. 

Poverty, violence and fragility – a vicious circle

According to the World Bank, rates of undernutrition and infant mortality are twice as high in fragile states as in other developing countries. Moreover, it is three times more likely that children in fragile countries will be unable to attend school and twice as likely that the population will have no access to clean drinking water.

Fragility, poverty and violence thus form a vicious circle: when state structures are too weak to deliver basic social, economic and legal services or to guarantee security, conflicts tend to escalate. However, this vicious circle can be broken by establishing legitimate institutions and an active civil society.

The Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

World leaders expressed their determination to ‘foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence’ in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They set ambitious targets for reducing violence everywhere, ensuring access to justice for all and creating effective, transparent and inclusive institutions.

Switzerland is a member of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a group of UN member states, international organisations, global partnerships and other stakeholders working to deliver significant improvements in peace, justice and inclusion that will accelerate achievement of SDG 16.

Current projects

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Access to Justice in Tajikistan

A lawyer sits at her desk and discusses with a woman.

01.12.2016 - 31.03.2021

Through this project, Switzerland will accompany the Government in realizing a state system providing free legal aid, which will allow the vulnerable (poor) individuals in Tajikistan to better protect their rights and in particular to claim various benefits (e.g. pensions, child allowances). This system will replace the current NGO provided legal aid services. A space for dialogue between civil society and state authorities will also be preserved and will contribute to addressing further legal challenges faced by the population.


TUR CONCERN Capacity Strengthening of local NGOs for Effective Refugee Response in Turkey

01.12.2016 - 31.01.2018

Civil Society (CS) in Turkey only recently has developed a humanitarian focus. INGOs, donors and the UN rely on a few natinal NGOs to compleent the governmental refugee respone, which is increasingly strained as the Sate is undergoing a severe crisis. Humanitarian CS initiatives have also emerged at local and provincial level, but there institutional and operational capacities are still weak. This project will stregthen the capacities of 10 local NGOs to conduct refugee assistance. 


Renforcement d’IDEA phase Unique (RIDEAU)

01.08.2016 - 31.12.2018

Le programme d’IDEA en Haïti vise le renforcement des institutions (p. ex. Parlement) et des acteurs politiques (p. ex. partis), piliers institutionnels de  l’état de droit. Ce faisant IDEA contribue à bâtir une gouvernance nationale respectueuse de la participation citoyenne et paritaire entre les femmes et les hommes. La DDC apporte une contribution générale à IDEA avec un suivi particulier sur la participation politiques des femmes et sur les pratiques de reddition des comptes. 


RCA: UNICEF Sous-cluster protection de l’enfance

01.06.2015 - 30.06.2017

Par son appui financier au Sous-cluster protection de l’enfance, la DDC souhaite contribuer au renforcement du système de coordination en RCA, pour assurer une réponse de protection coordonnée pour les enfants affectés par la crise. Ce soutien rentre par ailleurs dans le cadre de la stratégie de la protection de civils (PoC), et plus spécifiquement dans le plan d’action du DFAE pour la protection des enfants associés aux forces et groupes armés.


Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development - Research Module on Employment

01.09.2012 - 31.12.2023

SDC and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) are offering a new long-term funding scheme for development-relevant research on global issues (www.r4d.ch). The main focus lies on the generation of new insights and solutions as well as on the application of research results into policy and practice through partnership projects between researchers from Switzerland and from developing countries. The overall r4d.ch program consists of five thematic modules and a module for thematically open research. The second module focuses on employment in the context of sustainable development.

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