Dealing with fragility in middle-income countries

Published on Thursday, 27 July 2017

Published by Stephen P. Groff on Thursday, 27 July 2017

ADB Vice-President Stephen Groff explains why in a region increasingly defined by middle- and upper middle-income countries, a failure to address challenges in fragile and conflict-affected situations puts the notion of an “Asian Century” at risk.

Fragile and conflict-affected situations, or FCAS, are generally characterized by countries experiencing political instability, weak governance and institutional capacity, economic and social insecurity, or greater vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

For ADB’s developing member countries in Asia and the Pacific, fragility and conflict manifest in many different forms and contexts.

Recent research by the World Bank reveals that violence or the imminent threat of violence affects development outcomes for almost 2 billion people around the world, 75% of whom live in middle-income countries.

These countries are also home to about 70% of the world’s extreme poor, or those among us who are the least able to cope with or recover from such shocks.

The existence of fragility and associated development needs within middle-income countries is becoming increasingly important for our future operational strategies. 

Almost all ADB’s client countries have reached middle-income status, but these are a highly diverse set of nations, characterized by differences between income levels, gross domestic product composition, population, urbanization rates, geographical areas, natural resource endowments, and vulnerability to disasters.

Such differences in endowment and opportunity often create the environment for conflict.

  Fragility, conflict don’t justify bypassing country systems to deliver programs

The 2011 World Development Report highlights that subnational conflicts, such as those that can plague middle-income countries, are often misunderstood by outsiders and may be overshadowed by larger geopolitical issues, bilateral relations, and national development agendas.

Given the above context, ADB has adopted a broad concept of fragility, capturing vulnerability to disasters, weak governance, shocks in the international economic and financial environment, and since 2013 the existence of subnational conflict as determinants of fragility.

We invest considerable resources into understanding the root causes and drivers of conflict, and have adopted an inclusive political economy approach, recognizing all stakeholders, and increasing collaboration and partnership among international, national, and subnational actors from the public and private sectors, as well as civil society.

Critically, the presence of fragility or conflict should not be used as a justification for bypassing country systems to deliver programs, especially in middle-income countries.

Supporting key government agencies to strengthen their capacity to plan and deliver effective development in fragile and conflict-affected areas is critical to helping governments address the situation more effectively over the longer run.

For their part, middle-income country governments need strike a balance between trying to attract investment and maintaining a positive outlook on their country, while acknowledging and addressing subnational conflict.

Development partners can help governments find effective ways of meeting basic needs in fragile areas, through specific operations in these areas – again in a way that helps strengthen country systems.

  Failure to address challenges in FCAS countries puts notion of Asian Century at risk

It is also important to stress that governments, more than outsiders, understand their own issues better.

Approaches do vary across countries, and results may be mixed, but the responsibility for addressing fragility and its impact on the most vulnerable lies primarily with the country’s government.

Addressing fragility is also central to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 16, which aims to promote peaceful, inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

In a region increasingly defined by middle- and upper middle-income countries, a failure to address challenges in FCAS countries puts the notion of an “Asian Century” at risk.

As regional trade and economic linkages deepen, it is absolutely critical that we focus on these issues, lest the region’s narrative be defined by its weakest links.

If we don’t, fragility, conflict, and poverty will continue to plague the region as a whole.

ADB stands ready to work with all our developing member countries to address the challenges of fragility and conflict.

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