To End Extreme Poverty, Tackle Fragility

Posted by Nancy Lindborg
February 13, 2014
Child Walks in Mud After a Storm in the Central African Republic

One year after President Obama pledged the United States’ commitment to work with partners to end extreme poverty by 2030, the Center for American Progress convened a conversation as part of USAID's think tank series on just what it will take to get there.

I was especially pleased to join the conversation having just returned from a very vivid and sobering visit to the Central African Republic -- practically the poster child for why development matters and especially why inclusive, legitimate governance and security matter as part of development. Nearly 63 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty in this land-locked country in the middle of Africa, now riddled with spiraling violence.  And despite the enormous need for basics like food and shelter, the most pressing concern of everyone I met with was the need for security. Today’s insecurity -- often called a religious conflict -- has its real roots in the deeply connected issues of chronic poverty and the lack of an inclusive, legitimate government, without the strong, effective institutions essential to resolving grievances.

CAR provides a compelling case for the undeniable connection between extreme poverty and fragility, which is true for many countries stuck in cycles of conflict and dead-end poverty. If we take China and India out of the equation–which are rapidly reducing the poverty of their populous nations–roughly 70 percent of the world’s poor live in fragile states. And a host of studies show that in the coming decades extreme poverty will be even more concentrated in low-income fragile states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Yemen, Chad, and CAR.

The mutually reinforcing relationship between fragility and armed conflict creates circumstances that perpetuate extreme poverty. Current data shows that states qualifying as “highly fragile” have made little to no progress against poverty reduction over the past 15 years and continue to lag measurably on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The clear takeaway is that actually ending extreme poverty by 2030 will require tackling fragility head on, which means addressing the intertwined goals of security, governance, and development.

Defining Fragility

USAID defines fragility as the extent to which state-society relations fail to produce outcomes considered effective and legitimate, with effectiveness and legitimacy being equal parts of the equation. When a society cannot count on its elected leaders to follow through on promises to deliver crucial services, basic needs go unmet. Where populations have been marginalized because of the absence of inclusive institutions, extreme poverty is more likely because the marginalized lack access to education, improved livelihoods, and opportunities for economic advancement. Without rule of law and a system that avails political participation, grievances go unaired and unaddressed, tensions simmer, and hostilities that inevitably emerge often result in conflict -- the most pernicious disease in the system sure to roll back precious development gains.

Doing Business Differently

Since 2011, USAID has played a leading role in partnering with the international community and a group of 18 self-identified “fragile states” that proposed a new paradigm for engaging in these environments. Driven by fragile states themselves, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States sets clear state building and peacebuilding goals as well as benchmarks for partnerships between the international community, civil society, and local governments to help these countries climb out of stubborn conflict and fragility.

At its core, this approach calls on local government officials, international donors, and civil society to work together to advance five fundamental pillars of strong societies: legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations, and revenues and services. We know that in most of the countries the road will be long and bumpy, but together we are making headway. Take Somalia, where the international community recently joined Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in endorsing a New Deal compact focused on moving all stakeholders toward the shared goals of governance, jobs, justice, and services. None of it will be easy, but the New Deal still represents the brightest potential for peace and prosperity in Somalia in two decades.

Going the Extra Mile

To eradicate extreme poverty in the next 20 years and fulfill the commitment made by President Obama, together, our collective development efforts must result in accountable, legitimate, inclusive democracies that can ultimately sustain our collective investments in health, education, and agriculture, protect fundamental human rights, and give their citizens a voice in their own future.

About the Author: Nancy Lindborg serves as the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on the USAID Impact Blog.



Brian P.
California, USA
February 17, 2014
This article is farcical. It is no stunning revelation that nations which are destitute have social and political problems. The correlation that none of these studies wish to look at, is the correlation between extreme poverty, and colonial looting by the private financial institutions and the public bureaucracies (IMF, etc.) which support them. Africa remains a net exporter of capital. Desperately poor African nations are ipso facto providing foreign aid to the transatlantic financial network! Until we remove these vampire fangs from their necks, and provide real credit for infrastructural development as FDR intended, these African nations will continue to perish at the hands of those "Western" nations which love to sanctimoniously lecture them about "good governance."
Cary P.
Guam, USA
February 18, 2014
[Re: Cary Lee Peterson at ECCO2 Global Partners] USAID and United Nations should work closer together than they have been. Many of the developing nations (in extreme poverty) needing financial aid for humanity and social development require sustainable solutions for the work force, which keep the private and public sector afloat. Thus, lack of robust communication and education to administrator, mitigate, and manage these financial aid programs [e.g.; civil society groups, inter-governmental organizations, or NGOs] (whether it be USAID, UN, or EU, WBG, IMF, IFC; etc.) will only develop minor cures for extreme poverty in Member States as DR Congo and Haiti, which are not marginally close to what we'd consider a 'band-aid solution'.


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