This is a writeup of a shallow investigation, a brief look at an area that we use to decide how to prioritize further research.
In a nutshell
- What is the problem? In “fragile” states, the government lacks the capacity or legitimacy to perform basic functions, including the prevention of internal violent conflicts. Fragile states and associated violence seem to be both a cause and an effect of poverty. The proportion of the global poor living in fragile states is expected to increase from one-third now to two-thirds by 2030.
- What are possible interventions? Possible interventions focus on conflict prevention and early warning, conflict mediation and negotiation, post-conflict peacebuilding, and technical assistance programs for building government capacity. We do not have a sense of which interventions are likely to be most effective or cost-effective.
- Who else is working on it? In 2008 and 2009, funding from private foundations for preventing and resolving conflict totaled $67 million, and of that total, $33 million was for field work in conflict-affected areas. Total Official Development Assistance to all fragile states in 2010 was $50 billion, but it is not clear how much of this total was used for building government capacity or addressing violence.
1. What is the problem?
Extreme poverty is becoming increasingly concentrated in fragile states, in which the government lacks the ability to perform basic functions. The poorest residents of stable (i.e. not “fragile”) states like China and India have seen significant income gains since 1990.1 However, income growth for the poor in fragile states has been slower, even in fragile states rich enough to be classified as “middle-income.”2 These trends are expected to continue, resulting in the proportion of the global poor residing in fragile states increasing from one-third now to two-thirds in 2030.3
Weak governance and associated violence seems to be both a cause and effect of poverty.4 There is some evidence that income shocks due to drought in sub-Saharan Africa increase the likelihood of civil conflict in the following year, though we haven’t investigated it deeply.5 In turn, conflict may cause poverty through the destruction of household assets, the loss of foreign investment,6 and reduction in human capital due to inadequate nutrition, education, or work experience.7
In addition to likely impacts on the perpetuation of poverty, violence in fragile states directly causes enormous internal and external displacement and loss of life. Some recent (as of September 2014) examples include:
- Over 190,000 deaths in the Syrian Civil War between March 2011 and April 2014;8
- 2.5 million new refugees and 8.2 million people newly displaced within their countries in 2013 according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees;9
- An estimated 178,300 deaths globally due to organized internal conflicts in 2012.10
Beyond direct injury and loss of life, violent conflicts are also associated with increased gender-based violence,11 psychological trauma, and damage to property and infrastructure.12
Because of the increasing concentration of poverty in fragile states and the huge humanitarian impacts of conflict, successfully preventing violent conflict or improving the capacity of fragile state institutions would be enormously valuable.
2. What are the possible interventions?
Interventions for fragile states generally seem to focus on preventing or mediating conflict, post-conflict peacebuilding, or building state capacity:13
- Conflict prevention and early warning systems: Conflict prevention interventions vary widely. Some examples include: funding education programs promoting non-violence, supporting documentaries on groups working through conflicts,14 income security or insurance programs to prevent shocks,15 and proactive human rights monitoring programs.16 Some early warning systems analyze flows of weaponry and relationships between ethnic, religious, and political groups to anticipate where conflict may occur in the future.17 In the early 1990s, conflict prevention and early warning systems focused on national diplomacy, but our understanding is that more recently the focus has shifted to the local level.18
- Conflict mediation and negotiation: Work in this area includes research on improving the effectiveness of negotiation19 and facilitating third-party mediation.20
- Post-conflict peacebuilding: Many post-conflict interventions involve fieldwork, including leadership and communication training, reintegration programs for ex-soldiers and prisoners, assistance to groups lobbying for reparations, and women’s empowerment.21
- Building state capacity: Outside actors have frequently attempted to provide technical assistance to fragile governments for developing stable state institutions, especially after conflicts. However, we have the tentative impression that many attempts to import bureaucratic best practices have not been successful, despite substantial aid spending.22
We currently do not have a strong sense of the effectiveness of these interventions, and do not feel that we have a particularly promising strategy for reaching confident judgments about their effectiveness.
3. Who else is working on it?
In 2008 and 2009, funding from private foundations for preventing and resolving conflict totaled $67 million, and of that total, $33 million was used for field work in conflict-affected areas.23 (These figures do not include funding for controlling and eliminating nuclear weapons, which GiveWell has examined in a separate shallow overview.) Field programs often focus on group mediation, working with victims of conflict, and women’s empowerment.24 Other strategies for preventing and resolving conflict include funding US-based advocacy organizations25 and funding conflict resolution research.26
Major private funders in this area included Humanity United, Skoll Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and MacArthur Foundation in 2008 and 2009.27 The Carnegie Corporation funded studies on conflict prevention in the early 1990s, and continues to fund conflict early warning systems.28
Net Official Development Assistance (ODA) to all fragile states from governments, international financial institutions, global funds, and UN agencies totaled $50 billion in 2010.29 About one-third of these funds usually go directly to the public sector.30 It is not clear what portion of these funds are used for technical assistance for developing state capacity or addressing violence. However, many official development aid agencies, particularly in Scandinavian countries, have substantial commitments to conflict prevention.31
Most ODA is delivered to a small number of fragile states, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Pakistan, while other fragile states are relatively neglected.32
4. Questions for further investigation
- How can we most effectively learn about the effectiveness of conflict prevention, mediation, and reconciliation programs?
- What are the most effective and cost-effective strategies a funder could pursue to strengthen fragile state institutions?
- How much Official Development Assistance to fragile states directly addresses violent conflict?
5. Our process
We decided to look into this issue because of the increasing percentage of the global poor living in fragile states and our background perception of the large humanitarian costs of violent conflicts.
Our very limited investigation consisted primarily of conversations with a few experts on conflict resolution and fragile state interventions. Public notes are available from our conversations with:
- Steve Riskin, Senior Program Officer, United States Institute of Peace
- Darren Kew, Associate Professor, Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance, McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts, Boston
We also did limited desk research on different types of interventions for fragile states and on engagement by other philanthropists in the field.
|Blattman and Miguel 2009||Source (archive)|
|Chandy, Ledlie, and Penciakova 2013||Source (archive)|
|Economist 2013||Source (archive)|
|Foundations for Peace 2009||Source (archive)|
|GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Darren Kew, September 13, 2013||Source|
|GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Steve Riskin, November 26, 2013||Source|
|Kharas and Rogerson 2012||Source (archive)|
|Lockhart and Vincent 2013||Source (archive)|
|Miguel 2007||Source (archive)|
|OECD Factsheet 2013||Source (archive)|
|OECD Fragile States 2013||Source (archive)|
|Oslo Forum 2013||Source (archive)|
|Peace and Security Funders Group 2010||Source (archive)|
|Price, Gohdes, and Ball 2014||Source (archive)|
|Pritchett and de Weijer 2010||Source (archive)|
|PSFG Supplemental Information 2010||Source (archive)|
|UNHCR 2013||Source (archive)|