An Outlook On Fragile States

Here at the IARAN we look to provide foresight to NGOs and operational humanitarian agencies to help them pre-empt change and build adaptable strategies for future programmes.

In December 2017, we released ‘An Outlook of State Fragility’. This dual service report encompasses a foresight analysis of the impact state fragility will continue to have on humanitarian work through to 2030 alongside a retrospective analysis of the learnings of our partner, Action Against Hunger and their 40 years’ experience in such areas. 

You can download the full report here but we have briefly summarised the report’s reasoning, basic methodology and key findings

Fragile states are often assumed to be conflict-ridden countries, but, whilst conflict can significantly attribute to this status, it in itself does not solely define, cause or lead to state fragility. The concept is continuously evolving and so far, there is no unified definition, but we, in our report, characterize fragile states as countries that face:

  • Weak legitimacy,
  • Weak authority and are
  • Unable to provide basic services to their people.

It is this lack of institutional resilience, which results in these countries becoming more vulnerable to, and less able to respond to crises caused either by socio-economic problems or through natural disasters. Therefore, it comes as little surprise to anyone that these countries continue to be the focus of most humanitarian interventions.  

As a team of analysts we’re fascinated with concrete evidence. We constantly challenge our assumptions and look to understand the reasoning and cause of the issue at hand. We undertake extensive weeks of research to identify the issue’s key trends and drivers and then, in our case, map multiple future scenarios. 

In 2030 we found that some trends such as petty corruption and vulnerability to natural hazards, will predictably, continue to have a direct impact on state fragility. Yet for others the impact can be more uncertain. This is especially the case for those that can feature various manifestations, such as conflict. It’s these uncertainties which lay the foundations for our three scenarios – the ‘business as usual’ the ‘optimistic’ and the ‘pessimistic’. We believe that only by understanding the range of possible outcomes that we face can we better plan for all eventualities. 

Our scenarios show that state fragility remains a persistent threat in 2030. However the optimistic setting provides some hope that the likelihood of state failure can be reduced as governments become being better prepared to provide basic services to their populations and more proactive in containing and resolving conflicts within the region.

Action Against Hunger’s origins began in Afghanistan and their work within these states remains extensive, four decades on. In conjunction with desk research we conducted a series of interviews with worldwide staff to reflect on the organisation’s strengths and the challenges faced with their past programmes. Self-reflection is key. Utilising foresight analysis tools and applying these strengths to the drivers of state fragility provides an opportunity for an organisation to strategically plan and adapt their operations to all eventualities come 2030.