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Fragile states: Defining difficult environments for poverty reduction

PRDE Working Paper 1

Magьi Moreno Torres and Michael Anderson

UK Department for International Development

August 2004

SARPN acknowledges OECD as a source of this document:
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  • In recent years, there has been a growing concern over the impact of weak or ineffective states. The range of problems associated with such states is broad, including poverty, conflict and humanitarian crises, human rights violations, global security threats and weakened international systems.

  • Fragile states take many forms, and have been defined in various ways. This paper adopts a definition of ‘difficult environments’ grounded in the role of the state in development effectiveness. Difficult environments are defined as those areas where the state is unable or unwilling to harness domestic and international resources effectively for poverty reduction. This approach is intended to complement other analytical approaches to fragile states, including the work of the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit project on Countries At Risk of Instability.1

  • Our definitional approach to state fragility looks specifically at the challenges for development and poverty reduction. It is firmly located in the so-called Monterrey model of development, which calls for better international partnerships to resolve today’s global human development challenges. Although looking at specific responses to difficult environments is beyond the scope of this paper, we assume that states outside the Monterrey model will require different aid instruments and approaches.

  • The key challenge highlighted by this definition of difficult environments is how to make development aid effective in places that lack basic levels of state capacity and commitment to poverty reduction.

  • By capacity we mean the core features that most strongly influence the state’s ability to mobilise and use resources for poverty reduction, including territory control and presence, the effective exercise of political power, basic competence in economic management and sufficient administrative capacity for implementation.

  • When assessing the willingness of a state to engage in partnerships for poverty reduction, we are specifically looking at two closely related notions. First, an explicit political commitment to policies aimed at promoting human welfare should be reflected in actions and outcomes. In short, political will for poverty reduction. And second, an inclusive approach that does not exclude particular social groups from the benefits of development.

  • Based on these two key concepts, we present an indicative typology of four broad types of environments: 1) the ‘Monterrey’ cases of strong capacity and reasonable political will, 2) the ‘weak but willing’ category where government capacity is an obstacle to implementing policy, 3) the ‘strong but unresponsive’ states where state capacity is directed to achieving development goals, and 4) the ‘weak-weak’ governments where both state capacity and political will are lacking. Real cases will be mixes of these stylised types, and a typology does not substitute for contextspecific political analysis. In real cases, an awareness of political cycles and the linkages between political, social and economic institutions can be key issues for donors. Yet a typology may help point out distinguishing features: different types of difficult environments will warrant different policies and approaches.


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