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. Switzerland has also stepped up its engagement in fragile countries and regions as part of its international cooperation strategy for 2017–20 and is investing 50% of its bilateral credits in fragile situations.

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.