Poverty, instability and violence in fragile states

Supporters of the deposed president José Manuel Zelaya coming under fire from the Honduran army in 2009
Around 1.5 billion people live in countries where violence is part of everyday life. ©Laif/Redux-Stephen Ferry (Honduras, 2009)

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines fragility as ‘the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks’. Fragility is generally conceptualised in relation to five dimensions: economic, environmental, political, security and social.

The term is commonly used by international actors to describe situations in which state institutions are weak or unstable and where poverty, violence, corruption and political arbitrariness are features of everyday life. State structures are either unable or unwilling to carry out core governance functions with regard to security, the rule of law and public service delivery. The country’s authorities often fail to develop mutually constructive relations with its citizens.

An obstacle in the fight against poverty

State fragility is one of the main obstacles to effective, sustainable efforts to combat poverty. There are more than 40 fragile states in the world today. Around 1.5 billion people live in fragile countries and regions. They are frequently among the world’s poorest – and often suffer from both poverty and the impact of violent conflict.

The international community has doubled the financial support provided to fragile states in the past 10 years. Donor countries have recognised the adverse impacts a fragile or conflict-affected environment can have on combating poverty and insecurity in the country concerned. 

Poverty, violence and fragility – a vicious circle

According to the World Bank, rates of undernutrition and infant mortality are twice as high in fragile states as in other developing countries. Moreover, it is three times more likely that children in fragile countries will be unable to attend school and twice as likely that the population will have no access to clean drinking water.

Fragility, poverty and violence thus form a vicious circle: when state structures are too weak to deliver basic social, economic and legal services or to guarantee security, conflicts tend to escalate. However, this vicious circle can be broken by establishing legitimate institutions and an active civil society.

The Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

World leaders expressed their determination to ‘foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence’ in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They set ambitious targets for reducing violence everywhere, ensuring access to justice for all and creating effective, transparent and inclusive institutions.

Switzerland is a member of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a group of UN member states, international organisations, global partnerships and other stakeholders working to deliver significant improvements in peace, justice and inclusion that will accelerate achievement of SDG 16.

Current projects

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Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Resource Center (IHLRC) “Closing the Compliance Gap”

01.01.2017 - 30.11.2021

The Swiss contribution supports Diakonia’s International Humanitarian Law Resource Centre (IHLRC) to respond to the demand for accurate and principled legal analysis on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law in the oPt, and to make it accessible to States and relevant organizations to ensure that their policies and international aid are not in contradiction with international law. This intervention is in line with the Swiss Foreign Policy in the Region and SDC Cooperation Strategy 2015-2018 that aims to promote respect for International Law, to ensure protection by all duty-bearers of the rights of the Palestinian population.


TUR CONCERN Capacity Strengthening of local NGOs for Effective Refugee Response in Turkey

01.12.2016 - 31.01.2018

Civil Society (CS) in Turkey only recently has developed a humanitarian focus. INGOs, donors and the UN rely on a few natinal NGOs to compleent the governmental refugee respone, which is increasingly strained as the Sate is undergoing a severe crisis. Humanitarian CS initiatives have also emerged at local and provincial level, but there institutional and operational capacities are still weak. This project will stregthen the capacities of 10 local NGOs to conduct refugee assistance. 


Renforcement d’IDEA phase Unique (RIDEAU)

01.08.2016 - 31.12.2018

Le programme d’IDEA en Haïti vise le renforcement des institutions (p. ex. Parlement) et des acteurs politiques (p. ex. partis), piliers institutionnels de  l’état de droit. Ce faisant IDEA contribue à bâtir une gouvernance nationale respectueuse de la participation citoyenne et paritaire entre les femmes et les hommes. La DDC apporte une contribution générale à IDEA avec un suivi particulier sur la participation politiques des femmes et sur les pratiques de reddition des comptes. 


PREST 5, Pistes rurales et désenclavement à l’Est

01.01.2016 - 31.12.2021

Les routes constituent un soutien à la croissance économique par la mobilité des personnes et des marchandises. Au Burkina Faso, elles demeurent en deçà des besoins et des référentiels de l’espace UEMOA. Partant de ce constat et sur l’expérience de la DDC, le gouvernement a souhaité que la Suisse finance conjointement un projet d’infrastructures et de mobilité avec la Banque Mondiale avec la méthode haute intensité de main d’œuvre (HIMO). Un inventaire des initiatives basées sur la méthode HIMO dans les 13 régions a été lancé en vue d’élaborer une politique nationale HIMO. La DDC s’engage à contribuer à ce projet et valorise la méthode HIMO à l’échelle nationale.


Multidonor Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB): Improvement of Citizen Security in Latin America and the Caribbean

01.12.2015 - 31.12.2021

The support provided by SDC (single- phase project) focusses on improving the effectiveness of public policies on citizen security in the Latin American and Caribbean countries, as a response to high levels of violence in the region. SDC will contribute to the IDB Multidonor Fund of the Citizen Security Initiative (CSI), aiming to strengthen the capacity of states to implement public policies on citizen security and promote exchange of lessons learnt through regional dialogue and bi- and multilateral cooperation in earmarked projects.


RCA: UNICEF Sous-cluster protection de l’enfance

01.06.2015 - 30.06.2017

Par son appui financier au Sous-cluster protection de l’enfance, la DDC souhaite contribuer au renforcement du système de coordination en RCA, pour assurer une réponse de protection coordonnée pour les enfants affectés par la crise. Ce soutien rentre par ailleurs dans le cadre de la stratégie de la protection de civils (PoC), et plus spécifiquement dans le plan d’action du DFAE pour la protection des enfants associés aux forces et groupes armés.


AfDB - SDC Partnership on enhancing the Bank’s fragility and conflict sensitivity

01.01.2015 - 31.12.2022

Based on its Ten-year Strategy, the Bank will strengthen its engagement in fragile and conflict affected coun­tries/situations which is also a priority in Switzerland’s development bill 2013-16. This partnership will assist the Bank in building the necessary capacities and instruments to translate fragility concepts and approaches into more effective operations on the ground.  Other outcomes will be a new diagnostic tool “Country Resil­ience and Fragility Assessment (CRFA)” and strengthened capacities in the Bank and in 30 African countries.


Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development - Research Module on Employment

01.09.2012 - 31.12.2023

SDC and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) are offering a new long-term funding scheme for development-relevant research on global issues (www.r4d.ch). The main focus lies on the generation of new insights and solutions as well as on the application of research results into policy and practice through partnership projects between researchers from Switzerland and from developing countries. The overall r4d.ch program consists of five thematic modules and a module for thematically open research. The second module focuses on employment in the context of sustainable development.

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