Five Steps to Help Fragile Countries

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY STEPHANE JOURDAIN Malian gendarmes patrol the banks of the Niger river in the northern Malian city of
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY STEPHANE JOURDAIN Malian gendarmes patrol the banks of the Niger river in the northern Malian city of Gao on March 13, 2013. It is barely two months since Mali's former colonial power, France, sent troops in to take back northern cities from Islamists who had seized power in a devastating push which saw them gain control of the war-torn west African country's entire north. But with Gao handed back to its citizens, there is a new disquiet in the reopened bars and market places after France announced it would begin withdrawing in April to hand responsibility for security back to Malian troops. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

There can be a fine line between stability and fragility. Mali is a case in point.

It wasn't so long ago Mali was cited as one of West Africa's most stable democracies. Two decades after a transition from military rule and repeated cycles of elected government, Mali had gained a reputation as an icon of development success.

The country's plunge into crisis, after a coup last March, came just as it had been preparing for new democratic elections.

It's no easy task to re-build after a descent into conflict. Fragile and conflict affected states - stretching from Africa to the Pacific - pose daunting development challenges. Only 10 percent of the world's fragile states are expected to achieve the goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015, under the deadline set by the Millennium Development Goals.

The stakes are high. One in four people in the world - more than 1.5 billion - live in fragile and conflict affected situations or in countries with very high levels of criminal violence.

And it's estimated by 2015, half of the world's people living on less than $1.25 a day will be in fragile states. Clearly our goals to end poverty and boost prosperity can't be achieved without far greater effort in these countries.

We need to transform the way we all engage with fragile and conflict affected states. That's the message from our own research and also from heeding the calls for a "New Deal" from an innovative coalition of fragile countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, known as the g7+.

So what does it take?

First, it's about understanding the drivers of fragility and conflict. Is it a battle over mineral riches, dwindling natural resources, or abusive state power, or is it driven by the sheer diversity of a nation's people?

Every situation is unique. In each, we must "connect the dots" - share what's worked, what we've learned, and what others have learned. Our Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development, with offices in Nairobi and Washington, is also working on ways to strengthen collaboration with the United Nations and other agencies, and to connect the community of people working on fragility around the globe.

Second, it's about delivering faster, more flexible and timely assistance. The World Bank Group is moving forward with an ever greater sense of urgency to assist fragile states, through our fund for the poorest, the International Development Association; and through IFC, the member of the Group focused on the private sector; and MIGA, our political risk insurance arm. The Bank is reassessing its tolerance for risk and working to be more nimble. We have to put a premium on speed, and cut red tape. We want to ensure countries get high-quality support.

For Mali, new operations are already being prepared to help restore health, education and safety net services to poor and vulnerable communities in the country's north, now that military operations are winding down. Bank staff in the Sahel region are also preparing a regional strategy to help guide the critical response to Mali's short- and longer-term needs.

Third, we must have quick wins. While we need to focus on the long term, early results can help win public trust in building institutions.

Fourth, it's about jobs and more jobs to help break the cycle of poverty and violence. In Cote d'Ivoire, former combatants told me they welcomed the chance to train for a job and turn their backs on conflict, but they also were worried about their friends who were not part of the program.

Ultimately, job creation depends on a vigorous private sector. In Myanmar, a country where 70 percent of people have no electricity, the World Bank Group is now working with the government on a plan with the private sector that would add 120 megawatts of electricity, enough power for an additional 5 million people. Small- and medium-sized enterprises also need access to finance to create jobs.

And fifth, it's about setting in motion coordinated, rather than disjointed, development assistance. I've seen how well-intentioned but fragmented efforts by donors can overwhelm a country emerging from the ashes of conflict. We also need to collaborate more within countries, to help build inclusive coalitions for change, and ensure women are at the fore.

The challenges are sobering, but I am optimistic. We know there's no quick fix. The task is to understand what drives conflicts; move quickly and with flexibility on priority initiatives; deliver early results; create jobs; and help coordinate all the players in development. Fragile states can be lifted out of their fragility. They shouldn't be viewed as basket cases. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we've also learned how to be effective. Now we need to step up our efforts and help these countries.