TACOMA, Washington — Conflict is a catalyst for extreme poverty and drives 80% of all humanitarian needs. The expected global humanitarian need has climbed over the past year because of the damaging effects of COVID-19. These effects are evident worldwide and especially in settings of Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV), where poverty is magnified and responses are complicated by turmoil. Including FCV-affected countries in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts is key to preventing loss of ground in the fight against global poverty and hunger.
Conflict and Poverty
FCV-affected countries are much more prone to extreme and enduring poverty. The governments of these countries are less equipped to protect vulnerable communities in their region. Individuals may seek refugee status in nonviolent states but relief is not guaranteed. As of 2019, there were 79.5 million people who had been forcibly displaced and 85% of them were hosted in developing countries. Though humanitarian efforts attempt to aid fragile and conflict-ridden governments, it can be difficult and dangerous to achieve and maintain reduced poverty. Changing climates, persistent inequalities and advancing technologies simultaneously disrupt both low and middle-income countries and pose further challenges to poverty reduction, especially in FCV settings.
Escalating Conditions Due to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is an additional disruption endangering the progress that has been made in reducing poverty and hunger. COVID-19 compounds existing stressors and responses in FCV settings can often be counter-effective. Standard efforts to improve conditions may not only fail in doing so but also cause communities to regress into greater conflict and more extreme poverty. Insurgents can capitalize on COVID-19 restrictions and grow in strength. Lockdowns and school closures make rural children more vulnerable to being brought into conflicts as civil society organizations face barriers to educating these populations. In settings of Fragility, Conflict and Violence, infectious disease is much harder to control or eradicate and COVID-19 is an extreme risk. The domination of disease is clear in the outbreak and persistence of Ebola in the DRC and the presence of polio in Syria. Many FCV-affected countries have a variety of other illnesses afflicting them and have struggled to combat them because of weak healthcare systems and poor hygiene and sanitation. As a result, COVID-19 accompanied by other illnesses adds to a range of unique challenges.
The World Bank Assists FCV-Affected Countries
Prior to the pandemic, the World Bank committed to a record $25 billion in support of measures addressing the unique needs of FCV-affected countries. The response needed includes plateau and ease of conflict, preservation of human capital and generation of development opportunities for refugees. Peace operations have had very little time to account for the COVID-19 outbreak with significant changes to their practices and dangerous situations resulting from impeded peace operations complicate efforts toward human capital preservation and greater opportunity. Projections for economic activity in FCV settings during 2020 have dropped by 8 percentage points and the World Bank estimated that an additional 18 to 27 million people in these countries will suffer from poverty.
Nearly one-third of the urgent aid provided by the World Bank Group in response to the pandemic is for more than 30 FCV-affected countries. International humanitarian law (IHL) has helped to accomplish this. Under the right to health included in IHL, the equitable prevention, treatment and control of epidemics is a responsibility of all nations. This implies a global responsibility to cooperate in response to pandemics, which is crucial for recovery in FCV settings.
The International Monetary Fund, United Nations and World Bank Group (WBG) are all recognizing the need for aid tailored to countries in conflict. With assessments to understand the risks and repercussions of responses, these groups are leaders in developing plans to address the pandemic in dangerous regions. The fourth Fragility Forum, a WBG event that gathers international voices, including those from governments, academia and media, was held virtually from June to August 2020 and facilitated the collaboration needed to adapt work in FCV-settings in light of COVID-19.
Stressing efforts in the most-at-risk nations will prevent further backslide regarding the global progress made in poverty reduction. COVID-19 has accelerated certain developments such as digitalization, social and health protections and measures for refugees. Steps to include those in FCV-situations are steps toward greater stability around the world. Engaging communities is essential to achieving this.
Prioritizing FCV-Affected Countries
The world is expecting to experience the deepest recession in more than five decades and the first increase in global poverty since 1998 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. FCV-affected countries need conflict and culture-sensitive assistance to ensure they are not left behind in a compounded crisis. Global inclusion in recovery efforts is within reach and can give way to a stronger coalition against extreme poverty and hunger worldwide.
– Payton Unger