The World Bank in fragile and conflict-affected countries: ‘How’, not ‘how much’

This study outlines the particular development challenges confronting international actors in fragile and conflict-affected countries, and gives a summary of the World Bank’s evolving approach to those challenges.

More aid is flowing to the world’s poorest countries and more of it than ever is passing through multilateral institutions.

In December 2007, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) received the largest expansion of donor financing in its history. Over the next three years, it will have access to $41.6 billion. Eighty countries, with a combined population of 2.5 billion people, are currently eligible to receive this assistance. Over half of these countries are either prone to or affected by violent conflict. They pose the greatest challenges to sustainable development and are the most difficult contexts for all donors, including multilaterals, to work in.

‘Fragile’ countries are often affected by deep undercurrents of discontent and division. Where these erupt into instability and violence, donors may be forced into a major rethink of their country and region-wide strategies and previous development gains are reversed. This has been shown by recent events in Kenya and those in Ethiopia in late 2005 – places not traditionally identified as ‘fragile’ or ‘conflict-affected’. For the 40-50 states labelled as such, the Bank is among a number of donors where some staff are arguing for an improved international approach.

In the Bank over recent years, two specialist units have produced conflict guidance for country teams, and have pushed for better institutional approaches and financing in fragile states. A new operational policy has been agreed and senior managers have begun hosting conferences on fragility as well as internal ‘retreats’ on conflict. In late 2007, as part of the Bank’s latest strategic review, President Robert Zoellick set up a task force on the institution’s response to fragility, and the Bank is in the process of changing its institutional set-up relating to conflict and fragility.