Chapter 2. What are the key findings from contexts affected by fragility?

Sara Batmanglich
Roberto Schiano Lomoriello
Development Co-operation Directorate, OECD

This chapter provides a snapshot of fragility in the world today. It introduces the 2018 OECD fragility framework and the 58 fragile contexts included in it. It looks at how levels of fragility have changed since the States of Fragility 2016 report, reviewing areas of improvement and deterioration across the five dimensions of fragility for a selection of contexts. It also examines the two contexts that moved out of the framework and the four contexts that moved into the framework. Building on the multidimensional approach to fragility introduced in the 2016 report, this chapter offers an aggregate picture of fragility and explains a cluster analysis to assess levels of economic, environmental, political, security and societal fragility.


As fragility is a multidimensional phenomenon, it does not lend itself to simple explanation. It occurs over a spectrum of intensity, with all countries and societies exhibiting fragility at some point and to some extent. With this in mind, the OECD introduced a new multidimensional fragility framework in 2016 in order to better reflect fragility’s complexity and to highlight those contexts that require differentiated attention. The framework represents a major shift in how fragility is conceptualised by framing it as a combination of risks and coping capacities in economic, environmental, political, security and societal dimensions.1

The framework considers current exposure to negative events, such as disasters and armed conflict, as well as capacity to cope with future negative events (Box 2.1). It thus offers the advantage of a more comprehensive and universally relevant perspective because it takes into consideration that each context experiences its own unique combinations of risks and coping capacities. Figure 2.1 shows the contexts counter-clockwise by increasing levels of fragility. However, the ordering is only indicative; inherent in the concept of multidimensionality is the fact that contexts next to each other in this visualisation of the framework face different types of fragilities and thus should not be directly compared to one another.

Box 2.1. What is fragility?

The OECD characterises fragility as the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks. Fragility can lead to negative outcomes including violence, the breakdown of institutions, displacement, humanitarian crises or other emergencies.

Source: (OECD, 2016[1]), States of Fragility 2016: Understanding Violence,

2.1. Multidimensional fragility

The multidimensional aspect of the fragility framework is one of its most important features. It allows for a more nuanced perspective because it captures the diversity of contexts affected by fragility and the dimensions of fragility in each context where indicators point to worrying or encouraging performance. The use of dimensions helps to highlight areas that might require further attention due to the vulnerabilities that are present and to show where coping capacities need to be further strengthened. The resulting granularity supports the need for differentiated approaches based on the particular type of fragility a context is experiencing and the risks and coping capacities contributing to that fragility.

The framework also offers an aggregate picture of fragility, done in the second stage of the analysis, and so provides an overall picture of fragile contexts. The result is a detailed, dynamic overview of the state of fragility in the world.

Figure 2.1. OECD fragility framework 2018


2.1.1. Aggregate fragility in the 2018 fragility framework

The average of aggregate fragility increased between the 2016 and the 2018 fragility frameworks. This is mostly due to increases in environmental, security and societal fragility. The following key points emerged in the 2018 assessment of the state of fragility:

Economic fragility. Average economic fragility in the 58 contexts decreased slightly. The countries that improved the most in this dimension are Angola, Republic of the Congo (“Congo”), Equatorial Guinea, Iraq and Myanmar. Central African Republic, Libya and Mozambique experienced the most severe deteriorations in this dimension of fragility.

Environmental fragility. Average environmental fragility has increased since the 2016 fragility framework. Countries that deteriorated in this dimension are Burundi, Mozambique, Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria”), Tajikistan, United Republic of Tanzania (“Tanzania”) and Yemen. The Islamic Republic of Iran (“Iran”), Myanmar, Sierra Leone and Swaziland had the most profound improvement.

Political fragility. Average political fragility has decreased since the 2016 fragility framework. This reflects improved performance by Burkina Faso, Egypt, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. Burundi, Niger, South Sudan, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Yemen experienced the most severe deterioration.

Security fragility. Average security fragility has increased from the 2016 States of Fragility report, although the most recent data show a levelling off of this increase. Fragility in this dimension increased most dramatically in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Niger and Yemen. Improvements were evident in Djibouti, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda, and West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Societal fragility. Average societal fragility has increased slightly since the 2016 fragility framework. This measure captures major deterioration in Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt, Mozambique, Pakistan, Tanzania, Yemen and Zambia. Central African Republic, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan evidenced improvement in this dimension of fragility.

2.1.2. Cluster analysis and the dimensional severity of fragility

In order to determine the severity of fragility in each dimension, contexts are clustered together in groups with similar characteristics and a profile of each cluster is generated that captures its main quantitative attributes. The clusters serve as an indicative tool to qualitatively assess different levels of fragility within each dimension. The lens used for assessment of the unique combination of risks and coping capacities in each cluster is the impact that these have on people’s lives. While this is a subjective exercise, it is designed to ground the quantitative understanding of fragility with a qualitative understanding of how people who live in these contexts are experiencing fragility on a daily basis. As an outcome of the cluster analysis, the clusters are ranked on a six-level severity scale from 1 (severe fragility) to 6 (non-fragile). The shading of the colours for each dimension from darker to lighter in the 2018 framework presented in Figure 2.1 corresponds to the degree of severity on that scale. Further information about the clustering technique is available in the Annex to the report.

2.2. Overview of results from the 2018 fragility framework

The 2016 fragility framework included 56 fragile contexts, 15 of them classified as extremely fragile and 41 as fragile. Using the same cut-off threshold as for the 2016 framework, the 2018 fragility framework increases the total number of fragile contexts to 58, with the same 15 contexts still considered as extremely fragile and 43 contexts now considered fragile (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2. 58 fragile contexts in the OECD fragility framework 2018


Sudan is the only one of the 15 extremely fragile contexts to have demonstrably improved, and this is the result of better performance in the societal, political, security and environmental dimensions. This better performance relates to decreases in horizontal inequality, the perception of corruption, deaths due to violence by non-state actors and deaths from infectious disease, and to an increase in access to justice and the robustness of civil society. Another notable change in the extremely fragile category is seen in Syria, which has worsened considerably since the 2016 fragility framework and is the world’s worst-performing country in the security dimension and on several indicators in the societal and economic dimensions.

The same three countries – Somalia, South Sudan and Central African Republic – are the top-three most extremely fragile contexts in both the 2016 and 2018 frameworks. Somalia remains the most fragile context in the world due to its persistent weak results on all institutional performance indicators distributed across all five dimensions and to its extremely poor indicators on government effectiveness, rule of law, perception of corruption and socio-economic vulnerability.

Mali, too, remained in the extremely fragile category, mainly because fragility worsened in the economic dimension due to increased resource rent dependence and higher rates of people not employed or not in education. Despite this deterioration, Mali experienced some improvement in other dimensions, although it continues to perform poorly on indicators in the security dimension and on perception of corruption.

2.2.1. Movements into and out of the 2018 framework

Two countries, Cambodia and Lesotho, moved out of the framework in 2018. Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Iran and Nepal moved into the framework, although Equatorial Guinea appeared in the framework because it finally met the data threshold and not necessarily because of a drastic change in its overall fragility. (Box 2.2 discusses data constraints more fully.) Following are some key points about the other contexts that appear for the first time in the framework:

Djibouti is particularly weak in the political dimension. Poor performance on several indicators – specifically voice and accountability and judicial and legislative constraints on executive power – can explain its inclusion in the framework. There is also a fairly high perception of corruption. In recent years, Djibouti has slightly worsened in all dimensions apart from the security dimension, which reflects some significant decreases in risks related to human activity such as terrorism, violent conflict and the homicide rate.

Iran is an addition towards the end of the framework but exhibits high fragility in both societal and political dimensions. Iran is one of the 15 worst-performing contexts in terms of societal fragility due to an extremely high level of horizontal inequality and a high level of gender inequality. The large number of refugees and displaced people in Iran also drives societal fragility.

Iran’s outcomes in the political dimension also contributed to its inclusion in the 2018 fragility framework. It scores high on the political terror indicator that measures state-sanctioned or state-perpetrated violence (e.g. assassinations of political challengers and police brutality) and demonstrates low levels of judicial constraints on executive power. Iran’s weak performance on indicators measuring voice and accountability negatively affected its performance in the societal and political dimensions of fragility. Performance in the economic and security dimensions also worsened. This is evidenced by rising unemployment and increased risk of violent conflicts, which is the statistical risk of violent conflict in the next one to four years, based on 25 quantitative indicators.

Nepal shows fragility in both the security and economic dimensions. Its worst-performing indicators in the security dimension relate to government effectiveness and to the high level of criminal activities that are similar, for comparative purposes, to those of Egypt and Russia. In the economic dimension, Nepal’s economic fragility can be explained in part by the low growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP) and its unchanged level of aid dependency, which matches that of Zimbabwe.

The earthquake in April 2015, which killed nearly 9 000 people and resulted in economic damages of about USD 5.2 billion, has most likely exacerbated fragility in both dimensions (CRED, 2018[2]). While Nepal is not particularly weak in the environmental and societal dimensions compared to other contexts in the framework, these dimensions still worsened over time. In the political dimension, however, there have been improvements, with a decrease in the perception of corruption and an increase in the voice and accountability indicator.

Box 2.2. Data challenges with the measurement of fragility

While measuring fragility has become vastly more rigorous in recent years, in many ways it is still more art than science. In most respects, this is the result of considerable limitations to existing data. The data are insufficient to keep up with the ever-expanding qualitative conceptualisation of fragility and with the causes and consequences of fragility. Statistical imputation methods can be used to fill data gaps. But this approach is best used sparingly, even if it means dropping indicators or countries and territories that otherwise would have been included. This has an impact not only on the OECD fragility framework but also on the development sector more broadly. It is thus worth highlighting the specific challenges of capturing fragility, as many of these will need to be addressed before the policy community is able to continue to evolve both understanding of and responses to the myriad manifestations of fragility. Here are some of these challenges:

Data threshold. To be included in the OECD fragility framework, a context must have at least 70% of required data. This criterion meant that just 172 contexts could be included in the calculations in 2018.1 It should be noted that the absence of data does not mean the excluded contexts are not, in fact, fragile. Indeed, many of these are small island developing states facing distinct fragility challenges. Five of these contexts2 have been considered fragile in other methodologies (ADB, 2016[3]).

Country level. The primary unit of analysis in the fragility framework is the state or territory. This means that the framework is unable to capture external factors and macro-level drivers that spill over borders as well as subnational and micro-level drivers that indicate pockets of fragility within borders. Both kinds of drivers can obviously have a large impact on fragility and are important to take into account through other means. Going forward, the OECD will continue to explore how different layers of fragility, beyond just the nation state, can be incorporated into the framework.

Time. Various aspects of time continue to present problems for measuring fragility, which is an inherently mutable and dynamic phenomenon. Issues with the age of data, which are from 2016 for the most part, arose in the 2018 OECD framework. This was the case, for instance, with analysis of Venezuela’s performance and with Myanmar’s positive trajectory between the previous framework and the current one. A related issue is that data are not collected frequently enough to always take account of shocks, triggers and rapidly unfolding situations and, in some cases, to even compare data from year to year. An additional challenge is that most measures of fragility are snapshots in time, so it is also difficult to capture the dynamics of change and overall trajectory. These are important markers because a society may be continuously adapting to its fragility and thus building resilience.

Informality. In many places, informal networks, institutions, processes, economies and practices serve critical functions within society that are impossible to separate from either the risks the society faces or its inherent coping capacities. Informal systems, indeed, often are the backbone of coping capacity. Yet there are more and much better data on formal mechanisms and institutions than on informal systems, despite the latter’s importance. This makes it difficult to credibly capture the important impact that informal aspects can have on a context’s overall fragility.

Societal dynamics. Intra-group and inter-group dynamics are increasingly recognised as fundamental influences on every society’s pathway (UN/World Bank, 2018, p. xxii[4]). These include horizontal inequality, which shapes the economic and political relationships among groups, as well as shared histories, mutual trust and mistrust, narratives, grievances, and perceptions. Factors such as social and cultural capital and societal cohesion also affect the way that societies experience and deal with fragility. While various forms of inequality can be measured, it is still very difficult to quantitatively and fully capture the myriad interwoven influences and systems that determine how well, or how poorly, societies function.

1. A list of excluded contexts is available in the Technical Annex.

2. The Asian Development Bank, for instance, considers Afghanistan, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Myanmar, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu to be fragile situations.

Although four countries moved into the 2018 fragility framework, Cambodia and Lesotho both improved appreciably enough to drop off. Cambodia markedly improved in the political dimension, with positive gains on decentralisation and regime persistence. Measures of the levels of state-sanctioned or state-perpetrated violence also improved. Cambodia also slightly improved in the economic dimension through better performance on indicators of resource rent dependence, economic remoteness and aid dependency.

Lesotho saw improvement in the environmental, security and economic dimensions, which contributed to it no longer being included in the fragility framework. The environmental dimension improvement was due to a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of infectious disease. Lesotho also demonstrated better performance on the rule of law indicator and a decrease in violent conflict risk, which also had positive impacts on security fragility. Improvements in the economic dimension included decreases in aid dependency and socio-economic vulnerability which, coupled with improvements in regulatory quality, added to the overall positive change.

2.2.2. Deteriorations and improvements of fragile contexts

Slight statistical variations with the data can explain some minor adjustments to the placement of contexts in the fragility framework from 2016 to 2018. However, several countries deteriorated or improved enough to merit explanation.


Libya improved in the security dimension due to a decrease in deaths caused by non-state actors. However, its aggregate fragility worsened because of increased fragility in the economic, political and environmental dimensions. On certain indicators, Libya performs worse than Central African Republic and Somalia, both of which are considered extremely fragile contexts. On rule of law, Central African Republic performs better. On regulatory quality, Somalia performs better than Libya, which performs worse than all other contexts. Libya’s socio-economic vulnerability and aid dependency have increased. Resource rent dependence and the unemployment rate are currently stable and Libya continues to have the highest percentage of GDP from natural resources.

Congo has performed better in the economic dimension in recent years, but its aggregate fragility increased mainly due to deterioration in the security and political dimensions. In particular, the political dimension has worsened as a result of loosening constraints on executive power, lowered voice and accountability, and higher perception of corruption by citizens. Congo also shows an increase in the levels of gender inequality, which stand as the seventh highest in the world.

Tajikistan worsened in all five dimensions. However, deterioration was particularly apparent in the security, environmental and societal dimensions. The decline in the security dimension was the most obvious, with risks associated with terrorism and violent conflicts having increased.

Cameroon experienced increased fragility in the security dimension. The number of armed security officers per 100 000 inhabitants, already one of the lowest in the world in 2016, decreased even further, while battle-related deaths and the homicide rate increased. Several other risk indicators, such as the impact of terrorism and violent conflict risk, have also increased. The rule of law indicator has worsened, affecting both security and environmental fragility.

Egypt performed well in the economic and political dimensions. Resource rent and aid dependence as well as unemployment decreased. GDP grew and there were improvements in both legislative and judicial constraints on executive power. Nonetheless, both security and societal fragility increased. The societal deterioration is due to issues around civil society, access to justice, voice and accountability, and an increase in horizontal inequality.

Pakistan worsened in aggregate fragility despite improvements in the economic and security dimensions. This is mostly due to deterioration in the environmental dimension and in the societal dimension, where Pakistan ranks as the sixth worst in terms of horizontal inequality.


West Bank and Gaza Strip experienced slight improvements in the societal and environmental dimensions, but the improvement in aggregate fragility is mostly due to the security dimension. Here, there was a large decrease in the risk of violent conflict. However, despite its trend upwards in the framework and improvement in overall security, West Bank and Gaza Strip still ranks second worst in the world, just after Syria, in control over territory. The political dimension has also worsened due to decrease in voice and accountability and an increase of political terror.

Nigeria experienced considerable improvements in the security dimension including increased control over territory and a significant decrease in battle-related deaths, deaths by non-state actors, the homicide rate and the impact of terrorism. But on this terrorism impact indicator, Nigeria still has the third-worst score of any context in the world, just after Afghanistan. A major decrease in resource rent dependence reduced economic fragility. Nigeria also saw modest improvements in the political dimension with a decrease in the perception of corruption and political terror.

Myanmar improved in all dimensions of fragility. The most significant improvements occurred in the political dimension, thanks to better performance on several different indicators. Institutional improvements were reflected in indicators of governance such as voice and accountability, access to justice, regulatory quality, government effectiveness, rule of law, and decentralised elections. There was also improvement on gender equality, resource rent and aid dependency, and socio-economic vulnerability. However, the analysis drew on data that dated from before the current Rohingya crisis, meaning this year’s fragility framework does not capture any negative effects and impacts of the crisis.

Guinea made significant improvements in the political dimension, as perception of corruption, regime persistence and political terror all decreased. It also saw slight improvements in the societal, environmental and economic dimensions. This was due to increased voice and accountability and improved regulatory quality, among other issues, and a decrease in the prevalence of infectious disease and in the unemployment rate. However, the impact of terrorism and the risk of violent conflict have increased fragility in the security dimension.

Papua New Guinea experienced significant improvements in the political dimension. These were driven by better performance on perception of corruption, political terror, regime persistence, and voice and accountability. Violent conflict risk also decreased, although the country still suffers from a relatively high homicide rate and a significant level of violent criminal activities.

Box 2.3. Fragility in the Northern Triangle

In recognising the multidimensionality of fragility, the OECD fragility framework goes beyond traditional framings of fragility and so covers a broader range of fragile contexts than other fragility lists or groupings. This means that Guatemala and Honduras have been included in both the 2016 and the 2018 fragility frameworks. El Salvador, the third country of the Northern Triangle, has not featured in either framework.

Although the three countries share skyrocketing homicide rates, widespread gang violence, high levels of corruption and many other similarities, they nevertheless are experiencing fragility to differing degrees. This is why El Salvador is not in the fragility frameworks despite considerable and worrying deteriorations in the security dimension, and Guatemala and Honduras are still considered fragile despite having made some of the most significant improvements compared to the 2016 framework.

In the economic dimension, El Salvador scores slightly better than these two neighbours, mainly due to better scores in education and regulatory quality, lower resource rent dependence, and higher employment rates for women. It also does better in the environmental dimension.

While El Salvador and Guatemala perform similarly in some aspects of the political dimension, there are differences in their performance in certain indicators. El Salvador has a higher degree of voice and accountability, has more judicial constraints on executive power, and performs better in perception of corruption. Guatemala has deteriorated on this latter indicator, scoring the worst of the three Northern Triangle countries.

El Salvador also fares slightly better in the security dimension, despite deteriorations in rule of law, government effectiveness, and violent conflict risk, but it experienced a recent, sharp surge in its homicide rate. Indeed, for 2015 and 2016, El Salvador was considered the most violent place in the world while Honduras was reported to be the third-most violent and Guatemala the fifth-most violent (The Economist, 2017[5]). In addition, the homicide rate in Honduras has significantly improved, dropping to 42 (per 100 000 inhabitants) in 2017 from 86 in 2012 (Rísquez, 2017[6]).

Of the three Northern Triangle countries, Guatemala is the worst performer on the societal dimension in the 2018 framework, due mainly to much higher horizontal inequality and a lower score for access to justice. Yet, compared to the last framework, Guatemala also made slight improvements in access to justice, voice and accountability, and the core civil society index. Of the three countries, Honduras scored highest on access to justice and El Salvador performed best in inequality indices.

The nuances of the different countries’ performance and their impact on aggregate fragility demonstrate the importance of taking a multidimensional approach. They also show the difficulty of comparing levels of fragility in different contexts, even in the same region. In its multidimensionality, fragility is inherently fluid, further emphasising the need to go beyond the numbers to delve more deeply into the reasons for changes and whether they may last. For instance, in the Northern Triangle, the ratio of private security guards to police officers is very high at five to one in Guatemala and seven to one in Honduras (Kinosian and Bosworth, 2018[7]). This raises questions regarding the legitimacy of the state to provide basic services and the implications of security being a private good that only those with a certain income can afford. While it is unknown whether the proportionately large number of private security companies in Honduras is related to its more positive performance on homicide indicators, this ratio shows why it is important to complement any quantitative work with focused qualitative work to build a more comprehensive picture.


[3] ADB (2016), Mapping Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations in Asia and the Pacific: The ADB Experience, Asian Development Bank, Manila, (accessed on 04 April 2018).

[2] CRED (2018), “(database)”, in EM-DAT: International emergency events, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, (accessed on 20 February 2018).

[7] Kinosian, S. and J. Bosworth (2018), Challenges and Good Practices in Regulating Private Military and Security Companies in Latin America, (accessed on 27 May 2018).

[1] OECD (2016), States of Fragility 2016: Understanding Violence, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[6] Rísquez, R. (2017), “7 keys to understanding Honduras’ declining homicide rate”, InSight Crime, (accessed on 28 May 2018).

[5] The Economist (2017), The world’s most dangerous cities, (accessed on 27 May 2018).

[4] UN/World Bank (2018), Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, World Bank,


← 1. For a more complete description of the indicators considered in each dimension and the methodology behind the fragility framework, see the Technical Annex.

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