Images: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger
Looking Both Ways
Lessons from and plans for working in fragile states
Dec 11 2017
Action Against Hunger’s origins began in Afghanistan, and over nearly four decades we have worked in many states which can be considered ‘fragile’. Fragile states are characterized by weakness in legitimacy, authority, and the ability to provide services to their people. This lack of resilience results in them being more vulnerable to and less able to respond to crises. As a result, the majority of humanitarian responses around the world continue to be focused in these fragile states. Today, we’re releasing a report on how state fragility will evolve, globally, between now and 2030 and how we, Action Against Hunger, can use our experience to better operate in these challenging contexts.
Here’s why this report is ground-breaking:
This particular report combines future thinking with reflective analysis. What does this mean? That, first of all, we have studied what makes a country fragile – we have assessed what drives instability and fragility across the globe and tried to answer important questions such as: Why is it so easy for countries to fall apart, and so much harder to build them back from near-collapse? What issues need to be apparent to raise warning signals of state failure?
We identify phenomena such as conflict, displaced persons and access to basic services as crucial drivers of state fragility and analyse how they interconnect: how does unemployment and a youthful population render conflict more likely, when combined with weak state structures and high levels of corruption in a country that is vulnerable to natural hazards?
We use these trajectories to present three scenarios for the future. For example, in our pessimistic scenario, conflicts worsen, overspills and become regionalised, which in turn increases flows of large-scale migration. Huge swathes of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central America and parts of the Caucuses will experience state fragility and in some cases, failure. In the optimistic scenario, governments proactively contain and resolve conflicts, and are more able to provide basic services to their populations, which in turn reduces the likelihood of conflict and thus state failure.
However, reports on state fragility and its causes are written all the time. What’s unique about this study is the combination of the futures thinking (what we just explained above) with a reflective analysis, which we explain below:
The reflective part of the report looks back at our (Action Against Hunger’s) almost 4 decades working in fragile states, assessing what we did well, what didn’t work and what we learned from that. Through interviews with Action Against Hunger staff worldwide, we have tried to answer questions such as; what challenges did we face and how can we use our experience to make recommendations for future operations, both for our organisation but also more widely for the humanitarian sector?
Two examples of the challenges faced when working in fragile states:
- Access to vulnerable populations and security of staff. What have we learned over the years? We need to prioritise the areas where we have access and can ensure the safety of our staff. Our recommendations for the future and for organisations that work in similar contexts? Operate flexibly, anticipate change, and invest in neutral negotiators who can act as the go between to ensure access to crisis-affected populations, whilst keeping our staff out of danger.
- Building effective partnerships and working collaboratively with others. What have we learned? A long-standing presence in country helps us build better relationships with other NGOs, local businesses and communities, and in some places, governments. The recommendation is that we should invest in preparedness and build win-win relationships with local partners, involving them in the design, delivery, and reporting phases of projects.
Again, just like with the analysis of factors affecting state fragility this reflective process is not the innovative bit. NGOs regularly and successfully monitor and evaluate their activities, track lessons learned, and improve operations based on these.
What sets this study apart from the rest, not only within Action Against Hunger but also within the sector more widely, is that it allows us to look back at where we came from, assess where are now, and plan strategically for where we will be going over the next 13 years.
Read it now: iaran.org/fragile-states
*Action Against Hunger UK is a hub for innovation and learning which is why the Action Against Hunger International MEAL (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning) Services and the IARAN, (The Interagency Regional Analysts Network) who jointly produced this report, are hosted here.