Fragility and MDG Progress

How useful is the Fragility Concept?

Background paper to the ERD2009


Kenneth Harttgen – University of Göttingen
Stephan Klasen – University of Göttingen


Paper prepared for the Conference on “The challenges of fragility to development policy”, organised by the European Report of Development in Barcelona, Spain, 7-8 May, 2009


While progress in developing countries as a whole, in terms of growth, poverty reduction, and several MDGs, has been quite good in recent years, fragile states lag behind in levels of MDG achievement. To understand the link between fragility and MDG progress, and also to identify the most effective policy interventions to achieve the MDGs, it is essential that fragile states are appropriately defined and classified. While the amount of literature on how to engage with fragile states is rapidly accumulating, only very limited analysis exists that investigates to what extent the levels and trends in the MDGs differ significantly between different definitions of fragile and non-fragile states. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the usefulness of the fragile state concept in tracking the levels and progress of the MDGs. In doing so, this paper applies several definitions of fragility in order to study the MDG progress between 1990 and 2006. It compares average performance in levels and trends of MDG progress between fragile and non-fragile countries and also compares within-group heterogeneity. The paper shows that fragile countries are, indeed, performing worse in terms of MDG levels. In terms of MDG progress, progress is not necessarily slower in fragile states. Only a rather small number of countries suffering from compound disadvantages are doing significantly worse in terms of MDG progress. Lastly, the heterogeneity of MDG performance among fragile states is so large that it is not very useful to treat them as a group; the problems they face, as well as the solutions required, differ greatly and have to be developed and treated sui generis.

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