COVID-19 lays bare faultlines and fragilities across the globe

  • US ‘biggest mover’ in latest global rankings measuring vulnerability to conflict
  • Five most stable nations all led by women, with Yemen (again) most fragile
  • Climate-related threats to peace dominant emerging trend of past 10 years

A long-term deterioration in social and political cohesion left the United States highly vulnerable when facing its largest shocks in decades, with the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, a contentious election, and mass protests after the killing of George Floyd.

Yemen remains the world’s most fragile country, according to the influential rankings list compiled annually by conflict analysts the Fund for Peace. The 2021 index is published in partnership with International Alert, a peacebuilding INGO that seeks to deal with the root causes of conflict in more than 20 countries around the world. Together, the two NGOs are spearheading efforts to keep conflict on the agenda following a year where collective efforts to tackle global problems stalled and states became more inward focused than ever.

The role of climate change in exacerbating existing conflicts and helping create the conditions for new ones is the dominant trend reflected in the accompanying new 10-year analysis, with wars in Syria and Mali providing the bloodiest examples of grievances exacerbated by absent or mismanaged responses to the climate crisis.

Other patterns emerge in the one-year update. While 2020 ended with most governments dominated by men, Finland and indeed all five of the most peaceful nations are led by women.

In a year that will be remembered above all else for the COVID-19 pandemic, repressive responses to controlling the virus saw recent progress towards settled and peaceful economies take a step backwards in countries from the Philippines to Nigeria.

The autumn conflict across the long-disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh scores as the most significant escalation in violent conflict, costing over 6,000 lives and resulting in both Armenia and Azerbaijan featuring among the 10 states that deteriorated the most last year.

The Fragile States Index draws on established conflict risk indicators, providing insights into state vulnerability that have been tracked each calendar year since the 1990s. The indicators flow from 12 political, economic, social and 'cohesion' influences.

Patricia Taft Nasri, Fund for Peace Executive Director, said: “America’s slide in the Fragile States Index is a warning. The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous stress on livelihoods and public services, and further exacerbated social and political polarization in an already divided country. America needs to heal our shared sense of national identity and rebuild social cohesion if we are to be prepared to face the challenges of the future.”

Kathryn Tomlinson, International Alert Executive Director, said: “The 10-year trend revealed by the Fragile States Index shows that the international community can no longer ignore the connection between climate change and violent conflict. From Mali and Nigeria in west Africa to Syria in the Middle East and the Philippines in the Indo Pacific, climate and the changing environment is supercharging long running disputes, leading to death, displacement and regional instability. While there has been some rhetoric from a handful of political leaders, the issue is absent from the hard commitments being made to combat the effects of climate change. For people across the globe to live peaceful lives, this must change.”

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