Extreme Poverty in Areas of Conflict

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – According to officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the organization will make ending extreme poverty its top priority.

During a discussion on extreme poverty hosted by the Center for American Progress, USAID’s chief policy officer Alex Thier said that the agency would fight poverty despite the complexities of weak countries. To achieve this goal, USAID will need to engage “fragile states where conflict, corruption and current crisis impede the kind of inclusive growth that limits our ability to address the causes and consequences of extreme poverty,” said Thier.

Nancy Lindborg, another USAID official, said that conflict is the result of weak governance. However, she said that the agency “has adopted a systematic approach to ending extreme poverty in conflict-affected and fragile states that includes engaging public and private-sector partners and relies on fragile countries embracing USAID’s plans.”

Lindborg calls this a “layered” approach that combines particular goals for humanitarian assistance. These include anything from dealing with climate change to the promotion of food security.

The word “conflict,” however, is a broad term because not all conflict is the same. For example, conflict in Syria involves the struggle for power between those in charge of the country and multiple opposition forces with different agendas. On the other hand, conflict in Mexico is mainly between drug cartels, but the number of people killed resembles civil war estimates.

In order to understand how weak states make ending extreme poverty difficult, a brief analysis of the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index Rankings and Freedom House reports in necessary. The countries on the top of the list are the most failed for scoring high on issues such as mounting demographic pressures, poverty, legitimacy of the government and human rights violations.

According to the list, Somalia is the most failed state in the world in which governance is extremely weak and poverty is a deadly issue.

According to Freedom House, “most Somalis share the same ethnicity, but clan divisions have long dueled violence in the country. The larger, more powerful clans continue to dominate political life and are able to use their strength to harass weaker clans.”

Let’s take a look at another country that scored high on the FSI. Despite achieving independence from Sudan through a referendum in January 2011, the Fund for Peace considers South Sudan the world’s 4th most failed state.

Freedom House states, since the end of the Sudanese conflict between the north and the south, “land use and ownership are frequent causes of conflict and the return of refugees has exacerbated the problem.”

Conflict in weak states undoubtedly hinders the delivery of any form of humanitarian aid to those who need it. At the same time, however, USAID should keep in mind that the politics in each of these states are different. If it wishes to find an end to extreme poverty, the agency would need to work with other international organizations to help find solutions for the political pressures in these nations.

Juan Campos

Sources: All Africa, Center for American Progress, The Fund for Peace, Freedom House
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