Fragility to resilience: Getting to the root cause of the problem

Women in Somalia’s Oodweyne district build resilience to climate extremes through the farmer-managed natural regeneration method they learned through the SomRep project to restore their land. Photo by: Nick Ralph / World Vision 2018

LONDON — A key challenge in fragile states is the complexity of handling problems that never stand alone. Societal issues cannot be separated from one another, particularly in a more interlinked world facing climate change, increasingly complex conflicts, and longer-term displacement.

“Many of the countries we work in are one major crisis away from being fragile states.”

— Kelly Saldana, director, USAID’s Office of Health Systems

That situation — which creates a quandary for where to target aid in countries facing a multitude of problems — contributes to a “tyranny of projects” with a short-term and often siloed approach, said Jonathan Papoulidis, executive adviser on fragile states at humanitarian nonprofit World Vision.

It’s challenging enough, he said, for the international community to help a country emerge from violent conflict and stimulate economic growth, but what if an unanticipated incident such as the Ebola outbreak sends it spiraling right back into crisis, as in Sierra Leone in 2014?

Of course, such shocks can never be avoided entirely, but development actors can help governments build countrywide resilience through new ways of working to anticipate and deal with major complex risks and the root causes of fragility, Papoulidis said. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development currently classifies around 60 countries as fragile and estimates that without action, more than 80% of the world’s poorest people could live in fragile contexts by 2030.

“With new political challenges, changes in the economy and technology, worsening climate change, extreme weather, and everything else, you need institutions, actors, and social norms that can adapt and change with the change,” Papoulidis said. That includes bolstering so-called social capital by building bridges within and between fragmented local communities as well as between them and the government.

And figures indicate that investing in preventive actions can pay off for donors. The World Bank has, for example, calculated that disasters cost the global economy $520 billion per year and push 26 million people into poverty annually, but estimates have suggested that every dollar invested in prevention ends up saving between $2 and $7.

On the agenda

The need for new approaches is being recognized in the international community, according to a recent World Vision survey, which found that more than three-fourths of respondents think adopting a solid fragility-to-resilience agenda is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet almost half also believe aid programs are not sufficiently focused on addressing the root causes of fragility.

“We’re in between paradigms,” Papoulidis said, with a need to bridge gaps between the “triple nexus” of development, humanitarian response, and peace building. “People get the fact that we’re needing to move toward more resilience, but we’re not quite there yet.”

Franck Bousquet, senior director of the Fragility, Conflict, & Violence Group at the World Bank, agreed that there is a need to improve understanding of the drivers of fragility and factors leading to resilience.

Taking a fragility-to-resilience approach means not only addressing financing, he said, but also putting more staff on the ground in countries to handle crises that are often becoming more protracted and addressing grievances from marginalized groups. “It’s important to really scale up support for resilience, preparedness, and capacity of local and national institutions to cope with shocks,” Bousquet said.

Scaling up support

Papoulidis, meanwhile, pointed to some examples that show promising pathways for scaling up support for resilience. One is in Somalia, where World Vision is involved in the Somalia Resilience Program — a consortium of seven international agencies, including Oxfam and Action Against Hunger International.

Through that initiative and others, there has been a bid to more systematically align Somalia’s government institutions with local partners, donors, and communities and boost social capital. The aim has been to support the country’s proactive efforts to anticipate and manage risks such as droughts and conflict and aid longer-lasting food security and livelihood support, Papoulidis said.

Although the system is still far from perfect, Papoulidis said it is a step toward building a collective platform to respond to crises and development priorities — with the Central African Republic’s National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan now citing Somalia as a potential source of learning.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government’s Productive Safety Net Programme — supported by partners including the U.S. Agency for International Development and World Vision — has been key in helping the country avoid the full brunt of recent drought that contributed to famine in neighboring South Sudan — though there’s a need to move resilience activities beyond only a focus on food security, Papoulidis said.

Women in Somaliland's Oodweyne district are part of a 35-member savings and loan group through SomRep. The group has enabled them to not only build their resilience to unexpected economic shocks, but also helped them open a camel milk processing store, which contributes to nutrition and livelihoods in their community. Photo by: Nick Ralph / World Vision 2018

Deepening country cooperation

As a step toward a wider approach to resilience, the World Bank Group has developed its first Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence. The World Bank’s International Development Association also recently set aside $82 billion for boosting FCV resilience.

“We cannot tackle the issue by just looking at the humanitarian or development or security [sectors]; we need clear coordination across different actors with different mandates,” Bousquet said. “It’s about recognizing that ‘business as usual’ in countries impacted by fragility, conflict, and violence is not appropriate, and that this requires a new way of partnering with other organizations.”

In the case of refugees, for example, rather than just dealing with the immediate crisis and then pulling out, sustained engagement is needed with host communities to equip them over the longer term for the provision of social services, health, and education, he said.

Boosting visibility

At USAID’s Bureau for Global Health, Kelly Saldana, director of the Office of Health Systems, said USAID often has mechanisms in place at the country level for donor groups to coordinate on strategies and with governments. However, there is room to make these mechanisms more conspicuous to help the sharing of development experiences between countries, she said. “In general, we agree that a whole-of-society approach is required to help ensure that fragility-to-resilience is effective.”

For example, USAID’s Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced project — which aims to address the root causes of vulnerability in Niger and Burkina Faso — combines actors in the development and humanitarian communities. It has objectives across agriculture, health, and the economy, with a focus on building resilience across household communities.

Saldana said the Office of Health Systems is also boosting resilience before a crisis strikes. “It’s recognizing that many of the countries we work in are one major crisis away from being fragile states. So how do we build resilience into our programs before they become so fragile that there’s a humanitarian issue?”

The challenge of working on multiple different issues in multiple environments is complex, but World Vision’s Papoulidis said the future should be about getting behind initiatives for the fragility-to-resilience approach, following the sparks of promise in previous projects.

“We really need to say, from Haiti and South Sudan to Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Somalia, country platforms need to be invested in, strengthened, and learned from, and we need more partners committed to working within them,” he said.

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