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State and Societal Fragility
François Grünewald

There is much debate about the ideas and tools that have been developed to understand and deal with situations of fragility. What are the issues facing the aid sector?

 A new subject for international reflection

Fragility – be it temporary or long-lasting – has become one of the global challenges of the new millennium. It exists in a wide variety of contexts, including the poorest countries which have very little political or economic influence internationally. Many of these countries have suffered the effects of structural adjustment. Based on a naïve faith in the merits of free, borderless and unhindered trade, structural adjustment has often eroded the capacity of governments to fulfil their role, thus exacerbating political crises and fuelling social and economic tensions. The attacks of 11 September 2001 and a disastrous situation in many countries in the South brought the subject of “state and societal fragility” into the international arena, prompted both by the emotional reactions of public opinion faced with tragic human situations and the risk of destabilisation at local, regional and global levels in an increasingly interdependent world.

In Western countries, new forms of solidarity by an "international civil society" have attempted, on the one hand, to help fragile states to get through the “period of fragility” and, on the other, to engage in advocacy aimed at institutions responsible for the state-weakening process. State strategies have constantly been refined in recent years, in order to better understand and deal with situations of fragility. The concept of “fragile states” was first used at the Senior Level Forum on Development Effectiveness in Fragile States held in London in January 2005, but it was used in too general a way to guide operational strategies effectively. Since then, the donor community has taken it further both in theory and in practice, through the OECD DAC framework, international financial institutions (IFIs), some regional banks (the African Development Bank in particular) and bilateral aid institutions.

A typology of fragile states was developed by donors to be used as a tool for aid management. This process sometimes met with strong resistance from partner countries that were being criticised. A number of instruments have been tested: the World Bank’s LICUS and Post-Conflict Fund, ad hoc budget support, crisis period management funds (Norway’s Gap Funds) or mixing of aid credits with military expenditures (British Conflict Prevention Pools). The United Nations has also set up its own specialised mechanisms for dealing with post-conflict situations (UNDP’s Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Recovery). Meanwhile, the new multi-donor trust-fund programme has been tested in Sudan and DRC. The European Union, which is the main donor for crisis and post-crisis situations, has equipped itself with innovative tools (Linking Relief Rehabilitation and Development, or LRRD, and Peace Facility). The European Union defined its own strategy for fragile contexts in 2007. Each of these initiatives has its own history, with its own successes and failures.

At the theoretical level and thanks to the work of the DAC, ten principles of action for fragile, conflict situations were proposed in April 2007. These follow on from the March 2005 Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness and seek to guide bilateral donors and multilateral bodies in designing and implementing their interventions in situations where the Millennium Development Goals (ambitious but somewhat naïve and disconnected from real contexts) are inappropriate.