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Fragile States Are Hard to Lump Together

Tom Grubisich's picture

"Fragile states" -- the subject of the next Global Development Marketplace competition -- can't be put in one box.  Or two or even three boxes (i.e. in conflict, post-conflict, or threatened by conflict or political unrest).  The World Bank chart below shows how fragile states that aren't "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" (HIPCs) can compare favorably to non-fragile HIPCs based on key indicators such as poverty, school enrollment, and mortality rates for children under five years of age.  The exception is in the poverty category in the "last available year" section of the chart where non-fragile HIPCs reverse the 1990-2006 average and perform better. (Some HIPCs have had their debt forgiven wholly or partially, while others have not yet advanced to either stage.)

The World Bank Data Visualization chart (below) in general mirrors the first chart's findings.  It ranks a mix of fragile and non-fragile states by per-capita gross national income (horizontal axis) and per-capita gross domestic product (vertical axis).  The highest-performing countries (green balls) are, right to left, upper-middle-income Gabon, South Africa, Mauritius, and Botswana, all of which are non-fragile and not heavily indebted.  The next highest-performing countries (the cluster of blue [poorest countries] and red balls [lower-middle income countries]) include Côte d'Ivoire, Republic of Congo, Nigeria (biggest blue ball), and Liberia, all of which have been designated fragile but are not heavily indebted.  (Nigeria is a special case.  It was on the World Bank's and other fragile lists as recently as 2008, but off the World Bank's new "interim" "Harmonized List of Fragile Situations" published Nov. 17, 2009.  But the World Bank's 2009 Worldwide Governance Indicators rank Nigeria as the third worst state for "political stability and lack of violence/terrorism," just below Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of the Congo.) Many of the blue balls at the lower ends of the two scales represent non-fragile but heavily indebted states.



Submitted by Anonymous on
Yes, they are hard to lump together, but your posting is a bit odd. There is something wrong on the first table, since life expectancy cannot be under 30 years for the country groupings you. The poverty rates look very low! Nigeria is not a fragile state, and Gabon which you consider to be high performing would be classified as a (marginal) fragile state (CPIA 3.2) were it not for the fact that the Bank arbitrarily decided that the term only applies to low-income countries. Given all this, your data and computations (including your list of fragile states) may be suspect. Also, I don't get what you are trying to show in the graph by plotting GNI pc and GDP pc--in what way does define high performance, especially for small commodity (ie, oil) exporters? What may have been more interesting to explore (but probably with more rigorous data and solid econometrics) is whether granting debt relief helps countries come out of the fragile category.

There does appear to be something wrong with the "life expectancy at birth" figures in the first table, as Anonymous points out. Life expectancy at birth figures in the second table look to be accurate. Regarding whether Nigeria is a fragile state, a 2008 World Bank table -- --gives the country a 3.12 "Country Performance Rating," which is an average of four "Country Policy and Institutional Assessment" (CPIA) cluster scores. The World Bank says a country that ranks at 3.2 or below can be considered fragile. Regarding "whether granting debt relief helps countries come out of the fragile category," that question is examined in the recently published book "Debt Relief and Beyond: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead," Edited by Carlos A. Primo Braga and Doerte Doemeland of the World Bank. On its Publications page, the World Bank says about the book: "....debt-relief initiatives have provided debt-burdened countries with the opportunity for a fresh start, but whether the benefits of debt relief can be preserved depends on transformations in a country’s policies and institutions."

Submitted by Anonymous on
Go to the OPCFC site and look up Harmonized List of Fragile Situations FY10, it does not include Nigeria. Question on debt relief is an empirical one, the blurb you quote does not clarify, it simply states the obvious.

Anonymous is right that Nigeria, which has been on World Bank and other fragile-state lists up to 2008, is not on the World Bank's new "Harmonized List of Fragile Situations" published on Nov. 17, 2009. The new list is described as "interim." The new Worldwide Governance Indicators published by the World Bank in June 2009 ranked Nigeria as the third worst state for "political stability and lack of violence/terrorism."

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