Chapter 3. How are fragile contexts faring in achieving sustainable development?

Cora Berner
Development Co-operation Directorate, OECD

Chapter 3 presents initial progress made by fragile contexts towards the Sustainable Development Goals and other development indicators, stressing as well the unique challenges fragile contexts face in meeting global development ambitions. It addresses some of the challenges of collecting data and measuring progress on sustainable development in fragile contexts and then compares the 58 fragile contexts in the fragility framework against a range of issues associated with sustainable development. Among the issues considered are projected population growth, the growing concentration of global poverty in vulnerable settings and the impact of violence in fragile contexts. This chapter also looks at the issue of governance and fragility, in particular performance in delivery of basic services and public goods such as education and health, and discusses the challenges of inequality in fragile contexts.


Many individual fragile contexts have made important strides towards achieving sustainable development. But as a group, they are already lagging behind countries and economies that are not fragile. While most fragile contexts are on track to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 13 and 17, great challenges remain regarding achievement of SDGs 1, 2, 3 and 16, among others (Sachs et al., 2017, pp. 15-19[1]). In fact, most fragile contexts rank among the worst-performing countries on SDG 16 targets (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017[2]).

This means that fragile contexts are already the furthest behind for an agenda grounded in a commitment to leave no one behind. Out of 157 countries for which data on SDG progress are available, fragile contexts consistently rank in the lower third. The extremely fragile countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and Central African Republic are at the bottom of the rankings, in 155th, 156th and 157th place respectively (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 11[1]). Key characteristics of fragile contexts are presented in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1. Key characteristics of fragile contexts

Sources: (UN DESA, 2017[3]), “World Population Prospects 2017”, (database),; (World Bank, 2018[4]), “Poverty & Equity Data Portal”, (database),; (International Futures, n.d.[5]), “IFs Modelling System, Version 7.31”, (database),; (World Bank, 2018[6]), “Total natural resources rents (% of GDP)”, World Development Indicators (database),; (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017[7]), Global Terrorism Index 2017: Measuring and Understanding the Impact of Terrorism,; (UNDP, 2016[8]), Human Development Report 2016, Human Development for Everyone,; (The Economist Intelligence Unit, n.d.[9]), The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index,; (Uppsala University, n.d.[10]), UCDP - Uppsala Conflict Data Program,

3.1. Lack of data

The lack of data and weak statistical systems in many places remain major challenges to planning for and tracking SDG achievement (OECD, 2017[11]). For instance, about two-thirds of the 232 SDG indicators lack data and 88 indicators lack even an agreed methodology for measuring them. In addition, only 37 countries have national statistical legislation that meets the United Nations (UN) Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics; a continued lack of gender-disaggregated data and “gaps in political will, funding and capacity” pose further obstacles to comprehensively tracking progress towards sustainable development (OECD, 2017, p. 80[11]).

On the whole, for 10 of the 58 countries in the 2018 fragility framework, the data available do not even cover 80% of the SDG indicators (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 50[1]). Despite these obstacles, the Development Co-operation Report 2017 finds that donor support for statistics has increasingly shifted to fragile situations, making the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan – two extremely fragile contexts – the top two recipients of aid for statistics between 2013 and 2015 (OECD, 2017, p. 81[11]). These are promising developments. But donors from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and non-DAC donors will need to continue to follow up on their commitments to the 2030 Agenda. These commitments concern more than simply delivering development but also building the capacity to understand and monitor that delivery and its results.

Box 3.1. Strengthening national statistical capacities in fragile contexts

With the support of development partners, national statistical systems have made progress in strengthening their statistical capacities. But they remain weak in fragile contexts. These systems suffer from inadequate facilities and a lack of resources and technical skills. In addition, some developing country governments are unable to safely access all of their territory. These issues contributed to fragile contexts lagging in reporting on Millennium Development Goals for all eight objectives. As noted in the 2017 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics (PRESS), fragile contexts1 are now receiving attention from the statistical development community as a result (Paris 21, 2017[12]). According to the report, total financial commitments to statistical development received by fragile contexts between 2013 and 20152 amounted to USD 507 million. This represents nearly one-third of all statistical development commitments worldwide over the same period.

According to the 2017 PRESS report (Paris 21, 2017[12]), Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen received more than two-thirds of all statistical aid to fragile contexts. Overall, 11 fragile contexts received more than USD 10 million each in commitments dedicated to statistical development. Five donors – Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union (EU), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank – provided nearly 80% of the total aid towards statistics to fragile contexts.

The most recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) monitoring report also shows that only one in ten fragile contexts has a fully-funded national statistical plan under implementation in 2017 (UN DESA, 2018[13]). In terms of sector distribution, the greatest proportion of total commitments is going to demographic statistics and particularly to support civil and birth registration, which remains low in fragile contexts (59% registered versus the global average of 71%) (UN DESA, 2017[14]). International support has paid off over the years. The average Statistical Capacity Index score of contexts experiencing fragility increased by 5, to 51 from 46 out of 100, between 2010 and 2015 (World Bank, n.d.[15]). In the same period, the average for International Development Association (IDA) borrowing countries increased only by 2, to 63 from 61 out of 100. Fragile contexts continue to gradually engage in statistical capacity activities. Myanmar, for example, has conducted its first census in 30 years and Libya created its first National Strategy for Statistical Development to be implemented in 2018-23.

More commitments and long-term investment for strengthening systems and capacity development are crucial in contexts experiencing fragility, as these are at the centre of any statistical building activity. This is especially true in light of the 2030 Agenda for the implementation and monitoring of National Development Plans and the SDGs to fill sector-specific gaps in areas such as environmental and economic statistics. Statistical capacity development needs to be at the centre of the support provided to fragile contexts. Ensuring that funding for statistical development is explicitly included in this support is one way to guarantee consistent and sustainable statistical capacity.

Figure 3.2. Fragile states with more than USD 10 million of commitments, 2013-15

Note: Bosnia and Herzegovina is included on the World Bank’s Harmonized List, which was used for the Partner Report on Support to Statistics, but is not included on the OECD fragility framework.

Source: (Paris 21, 2017[12]), Partner Report on Support to Statistics: PRESS 2017,


1. The Paris21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics, or PRESS, uses different criteria than the OECD for defining fragility. It draws on the World Bank’s Harmonized List of Fragile Situations to identify contexts and countries satisfying those criteria. See

2. Total aid to statistical development is usually calculated on a three-year, rolling basis because commitments often span multiple years and fluctuations in annual figures are common.

3.2. Population

Projections developed for this report suggest that the percentage of the world’s population living in fragile contexts will increase in the coming decades. Currently, about 1.8 billion people live in fragile contexts, representing 24% of the global population. By 2030, the population in these contexts is projected to increase to 2.3 billion people, about 28% of the world population. It is estimated to increase further, reaching 3.3 billion people, or 34% of the world population, by 2050 (Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3. Projections of global population in fragile contexts, 2016-50

Source: (UN DESA, 2017[3]), “World Population Prospects 2017”, (database),


Population growth will remake regions. While 60% of the global population (4.5 billion people) were living in Asia in 2017, estimates suggest that more than 50% of the anticipated growth in world population between 2017 and 2050 will occur in Africa (UN DESA, 2017, p. 1 [16]). Half of this global population growth is predicted to occur in just nine countries, six of which are affected by fragility (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Uganda) (UN DESA, 2017, p. 5[16]). For example, by 2050, Nigeria – currently the world’s seventh-most populous country – is projected to overtake the United States in terms of population and become the third-most populous country in the world (UN DESA, 2017, p. 5[16]). The population of Pakistan, which currently ranks among the ten largest countries in the world, is likely to surpass the 300-million mark by 2050. In all of these countries, population growth is mainly driven by high fertility rates, with the highest rates of fertility in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda (UN DESA, 2017, p. 6[16]).

3.3. Poverty

Most of the 58 countries identified in this report as affected by fragility face great challenges in ending extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than USD 1.90 a day. The UN finds that the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the world has decreased significantly, to 11% in 2013 from 28% in 1999 (UN DESA, 2017, p. 16[14]) However, according to calculations undertaken for this report, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty is projected to rise in 40 of the 58 fragile contexts by 2030, the horizon for achieving the SDGs. If no action is taken, the number of people living below the international poverty line in fragile situations is estimated to rise to 620 million in 2030 from 513.6 million in 2015. This means that more than 80% of the world’s poorest people could be living in fragile contexts by 2030. In 2030, the extremely poor will be mostly concentrated in 4 of the 58 countries in the OECD framework: Nigeria (population 130 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (population 80 million), Tanzania (population 30 million) and Madagascar (population 28 million).

Figure 3.4. Projections of extreme poverty in fragile contexts, 2016-30

Sources: (World Bank, 2018[4]), “Poverty & Equity Data Portal”, (database), Projection data from (International Futures, n.d.[5]), IFs “Modelling System, Version 7.31”, (database),


The fastest progress towards ending extreme poverty has been in East Asia and Southeast Asia, where it declined by 32% from 1999 to 2013 (UN DESA, 2017, p. 16[14]). In sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority (36) of fragile contexts are located, the pace of poverty reduction has been slower, with about 41% of the population still living in extreme poverty in 2013 (World Bank, 2017, p. 36[17]). Another recent study makes similar projections, arguing that the least likely places to end poverty by 2030 are 31 “severely off track countries” with low government effectiveness, a weak private sector, conflict and violence, natural hazards, and environmental risks that contribute to stagnating poverty rates (Gertz and Kharas, 13 February 2018[18]). The same study also estimates that four out of five people affected by extreme poverty in 2030 will be living in these countries. These findings track with fragility. All but two countries identified by Gertz and Kharas in their study (13 February 2018[18]) are considered fragile in the OECD fragility framework.

Even advanced economies face challenges with regard to reaching domestic poverty targets. This can be seen in a recent baseline assessment of Canada’s SDG achievement that finds progress has stalled towards the goal of reducing domestic income poverty by 50% in 2030 (McArthur and Rasmussen, 2017[19]). Indeed, it will not be easy for many countries to meet the poverty eradication target of SDG 1, and this should put in stark relief the severe challenges faced by fragile contexts. As tackling extreme poverty will increasingly be an issue attached to the fragility agenda, a concerted effort will be required to better understand and address the multiplicity of factors that are hampering swifter progress in these places.

3.4. Inequality

The widening gap between the rich and the poor has become one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. As a 2017 Oxfam report highlights, the richest 1% have owned more wealth than all the rest of the world since 2015 (Hardoon, 2017[20]). Income inequality is a major hurdle to inclusive growth and poverty alleviation, posing great challenges to meeting the 2030 Agenda (World Bank, 2016, p. 69[21]). Inequality is a global problem. But its consequences are even more devastating in fragile contexts, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East where income inequality has stabilised at extremely high levels (Alvaredo et al., 2018, p. 40[22]). According to the Gini Index, countries considered extremely fragile, among them Haiti and Central African Republic, are also among the countries with the most unequal income distributions (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 436[1]). These figures needs to be treated cautiously, however, in light of recent research criticising standard measurements of income inequality and raising questions about the relatively low quality of the data used to compute the Gini Index (World Inequality Lab, n.d.[23]; Alvaredo et al., 2018, p. 27[22]). Another criticism is that income and wealth levels are often implausibly low in these measurements, especially at the top of the distribution, (World Inequality Lab, n.d.[23]).

There is now a greater appreciation among researchers of the importance of people’s perceptions of deteriorating life satisfaction, partly as a result of such questions and also in consideration of the role that perceived deterioration in life satisfaction played in driving the 2011 Arab Spring upheavals. To better understand and evaluate income inequality, academics are starting to go beyond income-wealth-consumption metrics to include measures of subjective well-being and life satisfaction as significant components in analyses of inequality (World Bank, 2016, p. 73[21]). The OECD, for instance, is currently in the process of developing a “New Economic Narrative” that includes a new perspective on growth and inclusion (OECD, 2017[24]). Issues such as these are likely to grow in importance for inequality assessments and their relevance in fragile contexts is especially salient. In many fragile places, youth unemployment is rampant and a lack of hope in the future and future prospects prevails. The disparity between people’s expectations and the reality of their lives can exacerbate grievances, especially when people become aware or perceive that others elsewhere are faring better; these grievances can deepen social divisions and worsen fragility (UN/World Bank, 2018[25]).

3.5. Governance

Academics and policy makers by now recognise the importance of credible, efficient governance as a driver for sustainable development (World Bank, 2017[26]). Governance in the development context is variously defined as “the process through which actors reach and sustain agreements over the distribution of rights, resources and responsibilities” (World Bank, 2017, p. 3[26]) or “the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority necessary to manage a nation’s affairs” (OECD, 2006, p. 147[27]). It is crucial to ensure security, enhance economic growth, and mitigate inequalities and social exclusion (World Bank, 2017[26]).

Yet in situations of fragility, where state presence is often weak and non-state actors or alternative authorities fill gaps in state service provision, strengthening governance structures is a complex task that requires inclusive approaches in order to accommodate different actors and reduce the risk of conflict (UN/World Bank, 2017, p. 142[28]).

Against this background, progress in governance performance in fragile contexts varies greatly. The 2017 Ibrahim Index of African Governance finds that African countries and the majority of fragile contexts in Africa have improved in most categories of governance over the last decade, albeit at differing levels (Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2017[29]). At the same time, however, deteriorations in the safety and rule of law category, particularly in national security, are sources of concern. The worst-performing fragile contexts in this category include Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Libya (Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2017, p. 38[29]).

In the area of participation, the Ibrahim Index for 2017 shows a mixed picture for fragile contexts in Africa. Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are among those that have experienced increasing improvement, while Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Swaziland have shown increasing signs of deterioration over the last decade (Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2017, pp. 43-59[29]).

Corruption is one of the biggest obstacles to strengthening governance structures in fragile contexts (Figure 3.5). All countries in the 2018 OECD framework, with the exception of Rwanda, also rank highest in corruption perception scores on the 2016 Corruption Index (Transparency International, 2017[30]). Corruption is most endemic in extremely fragile contexts, with Somalia ranking the worst, followed by South Sudan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria and Yemen; in Central America and the Caribbean, Haiti and Venezuela rank among the countries with the highest corruption perception scores (Transparency International, 2017[30]).

Figure 3.5. Corruption perceptions index in fragile contexts, 2016

Source: (Transparency International, 2017[30]), Corruption Perceptions Index 2016,


3.6. Education

Education is a key driver for economic growth and poverty alleviation and can significantly contribute to peace and stability in situations of fragility (World Bank, 2016[31]). Yet most fragile contexts still lag far behind non-fragile contexts in providing quality education as called for in SDG 4. For example, from 2011 to 2016, some of the lowest percentages of children of official school age enrolled in primary education were in fragile contexts such as Sudan (53.8%), Djibouti (53.5%) and Liberia (37.6 %) (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 411[1]). On a more optimistic note, several countries in the fragility framework such as Egypt, Iran and Sierra Leone have made significant progress, reaching almost 100% enrolment in primary education for that same period (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 411[1]).

Overall, however, when weighted against the average of expected years of schooling, the data suggest that most of the 58 contexts considered fragile in 2018 still have significant improvements to make. This is particularly the case for Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger where children can expect on average a maximum of 2.3 years of years of schooling (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 411[1]). A majority of countries affected by fragility also figure among the countries with the lowest ratio of female-to-male (age 25 and above) mean years of schooling. Of the 35 countries with the lowest score for this indicator, 26 countries are in fragile situations (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 415[1]). Of these, Afghanistan, Chad and Guinea are particularly noteworthy, as they display the highest levels of gender inequality in education worldwide (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 415[1]).

3.7. Gender

Gender inequalities persist worldwide and pose significant challenges to sustainable development in both fragile and non-fragile contexts (OECD, 2017[32]). In fragile settings inequitable gender relations can drive conflict and violence, while women’s active participation can contribute to sustainable peace and resilience (OECD, 2017, p. 21[32]).

Some characteristic features of fragile situations tend to reinforce existing gender inequalities and disproportionately affect women and girls. These features include “weak institutions and services, ineffective or uneven rule of law, insecurity and restrictions of movement, and the dominance of informal institutions such as patronage networks” (OECD, 2017, p. 20[33]). Indeed, with the exception of a few outliers, most fragile contexts face great challenges in achieving gender equality. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, fragile contexts still experience high rates of unmet demands for contraception and early child marriages and witness a high number of women and girls subject to physical or sexual violence (African Union/AfDB/UNDP, 2017, p. 71[34]).

Eight of the top ten most gender unequal societies in the world in 2015 were also contexts considered fragile in the OECD fragility framework. They are Yemen, Chad, Niger, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone (UNDP, 2016, pp. 214-217[8]).

There are fragile places, however, that have made great headway on gender equality on some indicators, and particularly with regard to increasing women’s representation in national parliaments. Rwanda is a stand-out example. In 2016, women held 63.8% of seats in the Parliament of Rwanda, a higher proportion than in Switzerland, Denmark or Sweden, which are among the world’s most gender equal countries. Several other fragile contexts, notably some in sub-Saharan Africa, have already closed the gender gap in the labour force, with Malawi, Mozambique, Burundi and Rwanda performing particularly well (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 416[1]).

In this regard, the meaningful inclusion of women in peace negotiations, constitutional reform processes and new institutions can contribute to sustainable peace and to advancing formal recognition of women’s rights (OECD, 2017, p. 21[32]). The transition in governance structures and justice systems that fragile settings often experience can provide an opportunity for women to be recognised and included as agents in peacebuilding and state-building processes.

To conclude, some fragile contexts have made impressive gains in gender equality when measured numerically. But, true gender equality is also qualitative, although qualitative progress is more difficult to capture. While specific gains in certain countries certainly are laudable, it should not be overlooked that achieving gender equality in fragile contexts will still require dedicated efforts at the social and structural levels. These efforts are needed to challenge prevailing social norms, strengthen women’s empowerment, support the active role of women in peace processes, and enable equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men.

3.8. Health

Both fragile and non-fragile contexts have made important progress in reducing maternal and child mortality. Globally, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 37% between 2000 and 2015 (UN DESA, 2017, p. 4[14]). For the same period, the mortality rate for children under five fell by 44 % (UN DESA, 2017, p. 4[14]). However, fragile contexts have experienced very uneven progress in this respect, which underscores the magnitude of the sustainable development challenges they face and their need for focused support in creating and strengthening systems that can deliver quality healthcare for all (Figure 3.6).

For example, maternal and under-five child mortality rates (per 1 000 live births) in 2016 in upper middle-income countries on the fragility framework, such as Libya and Iran, are similar to rates in Argentina and Saudi Arabia, which perform very well on the Human Development Index (UNDP, 2016, pp. 226-229[8]). On the other hand, under-five child mortality rates per 1 000 live births in the extremely fragile and low-income contexts of Somalia (132.5), Chad (127.3) and Central African Republic (123.6), were the highest in the world. Overall, the average 2016 under-five child mortality rate in fragile contexts was 62.5 (per 1 000 live births); the average in non-fragile contexts was 16.5 (per 1 000 live births).

Figure 3.6. Under-five child mortality rates in fragile contexts, 2016

Source: (World Bank, 2018[35]), “Mortality Rate, Under-5 (Per 1 000 Live Births)”, World Development Indicators (database),


Globally, life expectancy at birth increased by four years from 2000 to 2015, which is partly attributable to a decline in numbers of new HIV/AIDS and malaria infections and deaths and to advances in medical treatments (UNDP, 2016, p. 68[8]). Despite these improvements, a great number of countries and contexts in the 2018 fragility framework still have some of the lowest life expectancies in the world (WHO, 2017[36]). According to 2015 data, for instance, Sierra Leone had the lowest average life expectancy at birth (50.1 years), closely followed by Angola (52.4 years) and Central African Republic (52.5 years) (WHO, 2017, p. 55 [36]).

3.9. Violence

As States of Fragility 2016 highlighted, violence in all its forms has a significant impact on fragility. It is one of the factors that can exacerbate fragility across its five dimensions and is both a driver and an outcome of fragility. Violence also has a large impact on the global economy and is a major drain of resources, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. One recent report puts the economic cost of violence at a staggering USD 14.3 trillion (purchasing power parity, or PPP), which is equivalent to 12.6 % of global GDP or USD 1 953 for every person in the world (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017, p. 3[37]).

Lethal violence has increased in the past decade even as conflict death rates have continued to decline globally after peaking in 2014-15. Conflict deaths stood at 1.32 per 100 000 people in 2016, down from 1.61 per 100 000 people in 2015 (Mc Evoy and Hideg, 2017, p. 10[38]). Against the backdrop of this overall decline, the conflicts in just Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria accounted for about two-thirds of all conflict casualties worldwide in 2016 and have claimed the lives of more than 370 000 people since 2010 (Mc Evoy and Hideg, 2017, p. 21[38]). In these three countries, the economic cost of violence was particularly high, amounting to the equivalent of more than 50% of GDP on average in 2016 (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017, p. 60[37]). In addition to the high economic costs of violent conflict, the cost in civilian lives lost also has increased. Recent evidence suggests civilian fatalities just in the period of January to November 2017 increased by 42% over the same period in 2016 (Action on Armed Violence, 2018[39]). Over this period in 2017, at least 15 399 civilian fatalities were registered, a number that has risen mainly due to an increase in airstrikes in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (Action on Armed Violence, 2018[39]).

The Global Terrorism Index 2017 presents a more positive trend, finding that the number of deaths resulting from terrorism (25 673 fatalities in 2016) decreased by 13% over 2015 (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017, p. 14[7]). The decline was due mainly to fewer deaths from terrorism in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which, together with Iraq, are the top five countries most affected by terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017, p. 14[7]). Iraq, by contrast, experienced a 40% increase in deaths from terrorism, due mainly to ongoing terrorist activities attributed to the so-called Islamic State in the country (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017, p. 15[7]).

Figure 3.7. Top 5 countries with the highest number of deaths from terrorism, 2016

Source: Adapted from (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017[7]), Global Terrorism Index 2017,

In 2016, global homicide rates increased for the first time since 2004 and accounted for 68% of all victims of lethal violence (Mc Evoy and Hideg, 2017, p. 11[38]). Around the world, the highest homicide rates (higher than 13 per 100 000 inhabitants) are concentrated in only 15 countries. Eleven of those are in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, indicating that violence is increasingly happening outside of conflict zones (Mc Evoy and Hideg, 2017, p. 14[38]). In 2015, El Salvador had the highest homicide rates (108.65 per 100 000 inhabitants) worldwide, followed by Honduras (63.75 per 100 000 inhabitants) and Venezuela (57.15 per 100 000 inhabitants). Both Honduras and Venezuela are considered fragile in the 2016 and 2018 fragility frameworks. The resurgence of high homicide rates highlights the need for greater attention to urban fragility and the unique challenges it poses to sustainable development, especially but certainly not limited to SDGs 11 and 16.

3.10. Disasters

Disasters are threat multipliers for fragility. They can reinforce pre-existing grievances, negatively impact resource availability and economic opportunities, and increase the likelihood of displacement and migration, all of which hamper a state’s capacity to build resilience in the face of future crises (Rüttinger et al., 2015, p. 35[40]). Climate change is likely to affect the frequency and intensity of sudden-onset hydro-meteorological and climatological hazards and to increase the risk of displacement by disasters in subsequent years (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2017[41]). Available data seem to confirm this. While conflict led to the displacement of about 6.9 million people in 2016, disasters accounted for 24.2 million newly displaced people (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2017, p. 11[41]).1

The recurrence of disasters also has increased disaster-related deaths worldwide, which rose to 69 800 between 2006 and 2015 from 64 900 for the period 1996-2005 (CRED/UNISDR, 2016, p. 7[42]). For the combined period 1996-2015, 6 of the top 10 countries for disaster-related deaths in absolute numbers also figure in the 2018 fragility framework: Afghanistan, Haiti, Honduras, Myanmar, Pakistan and Somalia (CRED/UNISDR, 2016, p. 15[42]). Disasters may strike anywhere but have particularly devastating effects in fragile contexts, which have heightened exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks. Low-income fragile contexts are especially vulnerable, tend to suffer the highest mortality rates and depend heavily on international assistance (Peters, 2017, p. 10[43]). A case in point is Haiti, which accounted for the highest proportion of disaster-related deaths worldwide over the last two decades, both in relative and absolute terms (CRED/UNISDR, 2016, p. 13[42]) The severity of the devastation that Haiti has experienced in part stemmed from its very low coping capacity (INFORM, 2018[44]).

3.11. Forced displacement

Like disasters, conflict and violence also forcibly displace people. In 2016, 1.4 million people became newly displaced refugees and about 5.5 million people were internally displaced by conflict and violence across the world (UNHCR, 2017, p. 19[45]). Globally, 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced (UNHCR, 2017, p. 2[45]). While many of the recent debates around refugees have centred on people arriving at Europe’s borders, forced displacements mostly affect fragile contexts. They generate large numbers of forcibly displaced people and also are host to some of the largest shares of refugees worldwide, which severely strain the capacity of certain fragile contexts.

According to 2016 UNHCR data, 55% of all refugees worldwide originated just from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan (UNHCR, 2017, p. 3[45]). These three countries are classified as extremely fragile in the 2018 fragility framework. Similarly, six of the top-ten countries hosting refugees in 2016 (UNHCR, 2017, p. 15[45]) are considered fragile. They are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan and Uganda. Fragile contexts are also disproportionately affected by internal displacements. Eight of the ten largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in fragile contexts. The largest is in Syria, followed by Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan (UNHCR, 2017, p. 36[45]). Figure 3.8 gives a picture of forced displacement in the world.

Figure 3.8. Global impact of forced displacement, 2016

Source: (UNHCR, 2018[46]), “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Population Statistics Database”,


Forced displacements and refugee influxes also affect other fragile situations. Another example – although largely under-reported in 2017 – is the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic, which provoked the internal displacement of about 688 700 people as of December 2017 and has since led to approximately 17 000 people seeking refuge in neighbouring Chad (UNHCR, 2018[47]). While Chad has hosted refugees from Central African Republic since the beginning of the crisis in 2013, current displacements mark the highest refugee influx since 2014 and are likely to act as an additional stressor in Chad, which already is an extremely fragile setting.


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← 1. The global estimates of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) cover disasters triggered by sudden-onset hydro-meteorological and climatological hazards, such as floods, storms, wildfires and extreme winter conditions, and geophysical hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides. The estimates do not include displacements associated with slow-onset disasters such as drought and environmental degradation. Nor do they cover disasters associated with technological and biological hazards, such as industrial accidents and epidemics, except when they are triggered by a natural hazard. See page 31 of (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2017[41]), at

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