Although there is no standard definition of state fragility, countries in which the state institutions are weak or lack stability and whose populations suffer from extreme poverty, violence, corruption and political arbitrariness, are internationally designated as fragile states. The governments of fragile states are either unwilling or unable to perform basic governance functions in the areas of security, rule of law and basic social services. Furthermore there is no mutually constructive relationship between the government and society and no effort to cooperate in the definition of political and socio-economic development objectives.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines fragile states as follows: “A state is fragile when it is unable or unwilling to perform the functions necessary for poverty reduction, the promotion of development, protection of the population and the observance of human rights“. In other words the state is unable to perform basic functions in the areas of security, rule of law and basic social services.
Furthermore the governments of these countries are unable to develop constructive and interactive relations with the population and society. The following questions are also essential to state-building in fragile countries: what does the population expect of the government? Is the population able to articulate its desires and expectations, and if so, is it duly heard?
Obstacles to poverty reduction
State fragility is one of the main obstacles to effective, sustainable efforts to combat poverty. Only very few of the more than 40 fragile states in the world are expected to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the target date of 2015. Around 1.5 billion people live in fragile countries and regions. They are among the world’s poorest – and often they suffer doubly: from poverty and from the impact of violent conflicts.
Financial support provided to fragile states has doubled in the past 10 years. Donor countries have recognised that fragility or the effects of violent conflict contribute greatly to poverty and insecurity in the country concerned. Switzerland is also increasingly engaged in fragile countries and regions and has made this involvement part of its international cooperation strategy for 2013–2016.
Poverty, violence, fragility – a vicious circle
According to the “World Development Report 2011” of the World Bank, fragile states are twice as likely to be affected by malnutrition and infant mortality as other developing countries. Moreover it is three times more likely that children in these 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 weak and it is no longer possible to guarantee basic social, economic and legal services or security, conflicts often escalate. However, this vicious circle can be broken through the development of legitimate institutions and an active civil society.