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Staying engaged – Supporting people who face fragility and conflict

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Sambi Edward and his grandmother. Kampala. Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank Sambi Edward and his grandmother. Kampala. Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

Fragility and conflict pose daunting challenges in an increasing number of places around the world, frequently spilling across borders, causing people to become refugees or internally displaced  by the hundreds of thousands, and straining host communities, which all too often have limited resources. 

Right now, these issues are at the forefront for many of us, as the world watches the horrifying tragedy of war unfolding in Ukraine.

The concerns posed by the war will be a focus for our shareholders at the upcoming Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund on April 18-24.   Our discussions aim to produce a roadmap for how we can best support Ukraine and its people – as well as people in developing countries who face social and development setbacks caused by the war. 

As we learned with the COVID pandemic – which hurt the poorest and vulnerable the most – we need to move with speed, scale and impact, to respond to the devastating impact of such a crisis.   We were able to deliver a record amount of nearly $160 billion for pandemic response over a 15-month period. 

We are working to put in place a surge of similar proportions over the next 15 months to address the worldwide implications of the war in Ukraine. This financing will support Ukrainians and the millions of people across the world who are being hit by the economic and human shockwaves of the war, even as they continue to struggle with the pandemic, climate change, and other ongoing challenges. 

Through many years of helping people in situations of fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV), we’ve learned that when crises emerge, we can achieve the World Bank Group’s mission only by remaining engaged to help the people in need  – not just with crisis response but also with a focus on their longer-term development.  Our commitment to improve the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable does not waver when countries are fragile and embroiled in conflict. 

Our strategy, in fact, is to scale up our engagement in these places.  FCV situations are where a rapidly growing share of the world’s poor live and are thus increasingly central to our mandate.  Our FCV Strategy, which launched in 2020, has systematized our approach, but the shift in our work has been gaining momentum for a number of years.  It transforms how we work with many of the world’s most fragile countries and regions such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

In the past, many in the international community assumed that if a country suffered a coup d’etat or erupted in conflict, it was time to pack up and go, except for those directly involved in humanitarian relief.  Ensuring the safety of our staff and contractors is an immediate concern at moments of upheaval. 

But crises are also when our support becomes more critical.  We  must quickly adjust to new situations and be prepared to keep adapting as circumstances evolve.  The key challenge, then, is balancing the support to the most vulnerable and poor in countries affected by FCV without legitimizing governments that have come to power through an unconstitutional process or means. 

A good example is Afghanistan, where the international community has been working hard to find ways to reach the Afghan people after August 2021.

At the request of the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) donors and with our Board’s approval, we are preparing activities that will provide over $1 billion to UN agencies and international NGOs for delivering basic services, with initial projects focusing on agriculture, education, health, and livelihoods.  Because all proposed projects financed by the ARTF support equity and access to services for women and girls, the recent announcement by the Taliban to suspend the return of girls to secondary school is deeply concerning and inconsistent with the planned education project.  As a result, we are pausing the project until we have a better understanding of the situation and are confident that the project’s goals can be met.

Our commitment to the people affected by fragility, conflict, and violence runs deep – and it is increasing. Over the last five years, we have tripled our financial support to countries struggling with FCV, with our support in the last two years totaling over $30 billion.  We are directing more staff expertise to issues of FCV and finding more ways to partner with humanitarian, security, and peacebuilding agencies.

It is no longer a question of whether to remain engaged – it is the only viable option to fulfill our development mandate.  But we must think in new ways: about the stakeholders we can work with, how we can collaborate, and how we can tailor approaches to the realities on the ground. 

I call on all of our partners to stay engaged, and to deepen this engagement wherever possible. And I urge the humanitarian community to continue working with us to make a difference.  When we work in FCV situations,  humanitarian support will be necessary, but it is not sufficient on its own, without proactive engagement on the development front. Only by working together on these complementary approaches can we turn the humanitarian-development nexus into action and make lasting progress against fragility and conflict.

We will be discussing the issues of FCV in much more depth at the Spring Meetings.  This includes our global flagship event “On the Frontlines of Rising Fragility,” – where I will join development partners from countries, the UN, and other international organizations to discuss how we can stay engaged in times of crisis and meet the challenges in new and innovative ways.

Helping countries cope with and emerge from fragility, conflict, and violence is essential for our efforts to reach many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.  And to a greater extent than ever before, it is at the core of our development mission.



Axel van Trotsenburg

World Bank Senior Managing Director

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