Accelerating Development in Fragile States: The Role of the OECD Development Assistance Committee

By Gurria, Angel | UN Chronicle, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Accelerating Development in Fragile States: The Role of the OECD Development Assistance Committee


Gurria, Angel, UN Chronicle


One sixth of the world's population lives in fragile States, which are also home to one out of every three people surviving on less than a dollar a day. Of all the children in the world who die before reaching their fifth birthday, half were born in these countries. Of all the women who die in childbirth, one in three dies in these countries. While other developing countries are making progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), these fragile nations, ranging from Haiti to Nepal, from Burundi to Uzbekistan, are falling behind. In 2006, their per capita gross domestic product grew by an average of only 2 per cent, compared with an average 6-per-cent growth in other low-income countries. The gap with other developing countries has been widening since the 1970s.

Why is this happening? Some countries are trapped in a vicious cycle of conflict and poverty. Others suffer from a "natural resource curse", where resource rents benefit only the few who control them. Still others face a legacy of poor governance and cannot deliver even the most basic services to their citizens. In these countries, it is the ordinary people who suffer the most. The State lacks either the capacity or the accountability to support equitable development. This slows down and even halts progress towards the MDGs.

Improving conditions in fragile countries requires innovation, determination and a firm focus on results. To help the "bottom billion" people living in these States, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC)* of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which groups the world's major aid donors, has developed an action framework aimed at Governments in fragile States and in the developed world. In April 2007, the OECD Development Ministers endorsed a set of DAC Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations, based on two years of testing in ten States. These Principles set out basic guidance for improved aid management and for engagement beyond aid in such areas as security, peacebuilding and state-building. They have important political and operational implications.

As the Burundi proverb goes, "it always rains in the same place first". When it comes to international aid flows, some countries seem to hardly benefit at all from life-giving rain. By highlighting such "aid orphans" in its analysis of aid flows, the DAC draws attention to countries that are marginalized from international attention and far from reaching the MDGs. Our hope is that OECD countries will use these data to implement, over time, a more rational global system of aid allocation.

Good international engagement in fragile States requires rapid-response funding mechanisms and calls for long-term engagement. Aid volatility is twice as high in these States as in other low-income countries. All too often, aid tends to plummet once the television cameras turn to elsewhere. We need greater consistency of support for development in these countries if we are to improve significantly the lives of the bottom billion.

Changing donor behaviour means tackling a host of interrelated problems. In fragile States, the challenges of governance, economic performance, insecurity and poverty are all acute. Addressing these challenges requires close cooperation between different government agencies, including, for example, those responsible for defence, diplomacy and development, as well as for humanitarian assistance, and also between different donors. …

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