Why is There So Much Extreme Poverty in Fragile States?

July 10, 2014 By Zach Silberman

Why is extreme poverty so present in fragile states? It’s a deadly combination of poor governance and corruption, which can strain a country and its society, hurting social mobility and economic growth. Or as USAID suggests, “Illegitimate governing institutions and ineffective delivery of key services – the cornerstones of fragility – contribute to extreme poverty.”

 src=Last week, the 2014 Fragile States Index was released by the Fund for Peace, an annual snapshot of the vitality and stability (or lack thereof) of countries around the world. While the top 15 most fragile countries may not be surprising given conflict and instability in many of them, what’s striking is that these are also the countries where we see enduring, extreme poverty.

“Roughly half the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states by 2018,” according to a recent Mercy Corps report. Six of the first 10 fragile countries on the Fragile States Index are in Sub-Saharan Africa, and you find many of these same countries with the greatest number of people living in extreme poverty – the Central African Republic, Chad, and Democratic Republic of Congo – according to the United Nations’ most recent Human Development Report.

In his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama called for the United States to “join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves.”

Broadly speaking, even though extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990, nearly 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day – most of whom live in weak and fragile states. This will surely be a focal point for the post-2015 global development agenda, which will likely be a topic of discussion at the UN General Assembly in September.

USAID has already made ending extreme poverty a core mission in coming years, particularly in fragile states, releasing a strategy paper on the subject. To be most effective in ending extreme poverty in conflict states, USAID recommended a greater focus on partnerships among members of the global community to assist fragile countries with building effective political and economic institutions, as well as calling on worldwide cooperation to end extreme poverty and rebuild nations.

Ending extreme poverty through America’s development and diplomacy programs could also help prevent future conflict and stabilize weak and fragile countries.

But don’t take my word for it, just ask former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who said recently that these tools can “raise the standards of living” and “create the jobs in those [developing] countries.” The result would be that, “the instability that is resident in so many places I would argue would be significantly reduced.”