A woman and her husband stand outside their home at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by: UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

Balancing humanitarian, security, and long-term development goals in countries impacted by fragility, conflict, and violence, or FCV, is always a challenge — now made more urgent by the COVID 19 crisis.

The World Bank estimated in February that by 2030, over two-thirds of the world’s extreme poverty would be concentrated in countries impacted by fragility and conflict. By June, it was estimated that an additional 18 to 29 million people would be impoverished in FCV settings by the end of this year, facing crushing health and economic burdens while country economies face their worst recession in five decades.

How to partner better to ensure development and peace in the most difficult environments was the timely focus — alongside other themes from the first World Bank Group strategy for Fragility Conflict and Violence released earlier this year — of the first all-virtual World Bank Fragility Forum 2020.

Now in its fourth iteration, the in-person gathering of governments, international institutions, donor agencies, the private sector, civil society, and academia usually takes place in March but was instead transformed into a three-month virtual series of panels, workshops, and training over the summer.

Here are three key takeaways from the forum:

1. Context-based evidence must underpin any intervention to address fragility

“The amount in terms of dollars that has been transferred to countries has continuously increased, but solutions to bring back resilience and create conditions for prosperity have not always worked,” said Ousmane Diagana, vice president for Western and Central Africa at the World Bank Group, during the closing session of the forum. That, he said, is because analysis of individual country situations has not always been strong enough for effective targeting of support.

The key drivers of fragility within a specific context in a country should be assessed through analytics — what Alison Evans, director-general of the World Bank Group’s Independent Evaluation Group called a “rigorous analysis of context” — which should then inform technical assistance and finance.

This requires finding ways to overcome the many challenges involved in collecting data in difficult and volatile environments, something that is made all the more complex by security issues, lack of accessibility, weak government capacity, and lack of trust in institutions. The forum offered concrete examples of how such gaps can be filled, for example by using innovative technologies and simple open-source tools such as the Geo-Enabling Initiative for Monitoring and Supervision.

How the illicit economy affects development in fragile settings. Via YouTube.

2. Collaboration between humanitarian, security, and development actors is an urgent priority

Several sessions and speakers focused on the need for better on-the-ground collaboration across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, seeing it as critical in creating an enabling environment for sustainable development and peace.

Speakers highlighted the need to focus on both the immediate humanitarian and long-term development goals to move toward resilience, especially since fragile settings often face many overlapping compound shocks. This is even more important in the context of COVID-19, said Amat Alim Alsoswa, former minister of human rights in Yemen, and former United Nations assistant secretary-general, who highlighted that “COVID-19 has showed us all the fragility of our entire global system.”

Yemen, which has been in a state of civil war since 2014 also faces a range of other challenges — including food security, the cholera epidemic, and the destruction of infrastructure — that have only been added to by COVID-19. Despite this, there is still the need to look at long-term outcomes and invest in building and enhancing resilience, Alsoswa said. “All the issues have to be dealt with in a holistic approach,” she added.

3. Engaging vulnerable communities and populations and communities is central to impact

Involving local institutions — but also, crucially, populations, and communities — is critical to addressing challenges across the spectrum of fragility, conflict, and violence. Forum participants listed a range of ways this could play out from the important role played by local authorities in response to crime and violence to the need to engage with vulnerable and marginalized populations like refugees, the LGBTQ+ community, or people living with disabilities to understand exactly what they need at the country level, but also at the community level.

The role of access to water in conflicts around the world. Via YouTube.

“This is a moment for collective leadership,” said Clare Lockhart, director and co-founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness. “Citizens are leading, women are leading, mayors are leading … there must be a space for all different groups to lead,” she said.

In the spirit of leadership, while transforming a flagship in-person event into a virtual series on short notice at such a critical time was not without its challenges, Franck Bousquet, senior director of the World Bank Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group, said there were also many unexpected benefits. For example, the virtual environment and longer timeframe for the forum allowed for greater and more diverse participation, he said.  

“For the World Bank, the purpose of the forum is to create a unique platform for conversation and learning about how all partners can best support countries and communities to tackle some of the most critical global challenges,” Bousquet said.

“The fact that registrations for the virtual forum almost tripled compared to the in-person event is gratifying, but more importantly speaks to how much eagerness there is to collaborate to achieve lasting impact in FCV contexts.”

Watch the replays of all the forum sessions via YouTube and the workshops on the forum’s Open Learning Campus platform.

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