The World Bank Group (WBG) has launched its first strategy for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence (FCV) in an effort to identify and respond to specific challenges that the Bank faces when working in fragile, conflict-affected, and violent contexts. This strategy is now even more critical in the midst of a global pandemic, where countries already experiencing fragility, conflict, and violence are likely to face the most severe impacts. In April 2019, the WBG announced the development of the strategy, and after a two-phase consultation process the final strategy was approved by the WBG Board of Directors in February, 2020.
The rationale for such a strategy is clear. Many of the World Bank Group’s client countries face increasing levels of conflict, displacement, instability, and interpersonal violence, and the WBG estimates that by 2030, around 60 percent of the world’s extreme poor will live in countries experiencing FCV. And while the strategy was developed prior to the onset of the current health crisis, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to be most devastating for the poor and marginalized in these FCV contexts where government structures including health systems are already overstretched or have limited capacity to reach all in need.
In response, the WBG announced that it will increase the funding available through both its private sector and public sector lending arms for FCV countries. The new strategy aims to improve the development effectiveness of Bank Group operations in FCV contexts through identifying and applying lessons learned in previous WBG experience in FCV areas to its practices in FCV settings in terms of policy, programming, partnerships, and personnel.
As the WBG proceeds with ramping up its work in fragile environments, it must also recognize that development interventions in these contexts can exacerbate the drivers and the effects of FCV, particularly on the poorest and most marginalized. In order to avoid doing more harm than good in these contexts, the WBG must adhere to strong environmental and social safeguards, implement accountability measures, and prioritize the inclusion of “disadvantaged and vulnerable groups” as well as sustainability and stakeholder engagement. The new strategy touches on all of these points, but as the World Bank begins to put the strategy into practice — particularly with the new threat of COVID-19 likely having the most severe and longest-lingering impacts on areas that are already fragile — the World Bank Group should take additional measures in a few key areas:
1. Strengthen risk assessments both at the upstream and project levels. The new strategy discusses the increased risk found in FCV contexts at length. It proposes to increase and systematize the use of an upstream tool, the Risk and Resilience Assessment (RRA) to identify specific contextual risks associated with the drivers of fragility, and to incorporate discussion of those risks in the country level strategy documents that the WBG uses to guide its operations in the medium term, the Systematic Country Diagnostic and the Country Partnership Framework. Increased use of upstream assessments like the RRA is welcome, however, it is not clear in the strategy how the results of the RRA will inform risk assessments done at the project level.
2. Take a broad but tailored approach to inclusion of marginalized groups. Inclusion is one of the guiding principles of the new FCV strategy, which states that the WBG’s work in FCV settings will “focus on the most vulnerable and excluded groups” (FCV Strategy, Paragraph 47). The groups that are specifically referenced are: “persons in vulnerable situations, persons with disabilities, and members of excluded and minority groups (notably ethnic, religious, sexual, linguistic, or indigenous peoples)” (FCV Strategy, Endnote 28). However, this list differs from the groups that the World Bank is required to consider in projects applying its Environmental and Social Framework (per the Bank Directive on Addressing Risks and Impacts on Disadvantaged or Vulnerable Individuals or Groups). Also not referenced in the FCV strategy’s list are other groups mentioned elsewhere in the strategy that could be particularly vulnerable to exclusion, such as children and refugees. In its work in FCV settings, the WBG must consider and explicitly reference each group to facilitate inclusion so that no group is overlooked or left out. Marginalized groups should be understood in a broad and context-dependent manner in project design, stakeholder engagement efforts, and in access to project benefits.
3. Make safeguarding people and the environment a top priority. Adhering to strong social & environmental policies is essential for the protection of people and the environment in all contexts. In areas where governments have lower capacity for implementing social and environmental protections, the WBG should plan to invest more in training & capacity building, up front due diligence, and monitoring & supervision. Higher contextual risks mean that thorough risk assessments at the country and project levels are essential to identify risks and inform project design. Where high levels of contextual risk--such as vulnerability to climate change--compound project risks, the WBG should employ its mitigation hierarchy to first avoid such risks, and invoke the “no project option” where the risks are too high. The FCV strategy also acknowledges the increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against children (VAC), and references plans to scale up engagement on prevention of GBV, including through project level assessments. In projects with high risks of GBV/VAC, the risk of child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) should also be assessed, and child-friendly GRMs should be established with differentiated responses to GBV and CSEA.
Additionally, enhanced due diligence and expanded risk mitigation prior to project development and investment on the private sector side by IFC are much needed proposals. In particular, addressing risks associated with insufficient stakeholder engagement is critical, given that concerns about stakeholder engagement feature in over 50 percent of cases brought to the IFC’s independent accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (per the CAO Annual Report, 2019).
4. Be innovative in efforts to engage with stakeholders. The World Bank Group will need to draw lessons from its experience in countries and regions where engagement is difficult to find creative solutions for securing effective and meaningful stakeholder engagement in FCV settings. Drawing on local knowledge and insights is critical in FCV contexts where the WBG has less direct and regular access, less reliable data, and where the context might be changing rapidly due to conflict or instability. With new temporary limitations on in-person stakeholder engagement likely as a result of COVID-19, these lessons will also be important for all WBG operations during this period when in-person engagement is not a possibility.
5. Put a high value on accountability and make efforts to provide recourse for negative impacts. In FCV contexts where risks are high, implementation capacity is low, and where the WBG might not have the same ability to supervise projects closely, a strong accountability system is crucial to remedying harm to communities when things go wrong. The WBG should prioritize strengthening its independent accountability mechanisms, the Inspection Panel and the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman, through supporting expanded mechanism toolkits, budgeting for increased numbers of cases, preparing management action plans in response to mechanism reports that involve communities, and providing meaningful remedy for the negative impacts that they have faced.