Fragility and Crisis Management

Secretary-General and President of the World Bank Group visit with victims of sexual violence at Heal Africa.

Fragile and conflict-affected states are lagging behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015” (UNDP, 2012)

The Fragility and Crisis Management (FCM) Expert Group was created in the eve of the annual meeting in June 2013 to further contribute to the exchanges and knowledge sharing among practitioners working in the field of development cooperation. It is led by the UNDP and the European Commission. The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States calls for donors to move from a shared understanding of the context to joint approaches or coordinated action. A comprehensive approach to address the security-development nexus or, more generally, the challenges of engaging in fragile contexts can only be a collective effort and endeavour. Collaborative actions and inter-agency cooperation in fragile states, will lead to even greater and more rapid tangible impacts on the ground.


What is fragility?

A fragile region or state has weak capacity to carry out basic governance functions, and lacks the ability to develop mutually constructive relations with society. Fragile states are also more vulnerable to internal or external shocks such as economic crises or natural disasters. More resilient states exhibit the capacity and legitimacy of governing a population and its territory. They can manage and adapt to changing social needs and expectations, shifts in elite and other political agreements, and growing institutional complexity. Fragility and resilience should be seen as shifting points along a spectrum”(OECD, 2012a).

Why is it difficult to engage with fragile and conflict-affected countries?

Achieving real long-lasting and sustainable development is much harder in fragile states than in other developing countries as they face unique and complex challenges. While the range of issues can vary greatly depending on the country and region, some key issues are common: limited capacity, lack of will to provide basic services and security to citizens, weak relationship between the government and its citizens, challenges related to natural resource management, a private sector which may be largely informal and opportunistic, low levels of foreign direct investments, lack of institutions needed to resolve conflict peacefully, high poverty rates, weak economic performance, high rates of criminal violence, transnational threats such as trafficking in human beings and drugs, arms trafficking, organised crime networks or illegal migration, corruption or a high risk of further state decline. Consequently, aid delivery is more costly, more complex and sometimes less effective in fragile states than in other developing countries.

How to engage differently in fragile states?

1. EU Staff Handbook on Operating in situations of conflict and fragility

It is widely recognized that failure to engage in fragile and conflict-affected situations differently and in an innovative manner is likely to entail major human, social, economic and security costs. Having this in mind, the European Union has put in place a new institutional setup, has issued a new policy framework and has developed a set of innovative, practical approaches to get the best value for money for its external assistance aid programmes and for making a real difference in reducing poverty on the ground. However, while EU policies, methodologies and procedures for aid management are continuously adapting to the new challenges, effective action on the ground also involves building new staff skills, so as to ensure that the available human resources are able to provide the best possible expertise before, during and after a crisis. Thus, human resource becomes an essential factor of failure or success, in particular when dealing with a sudden crisis, but also when tackling transitional processes or implementing development programmes in a fragile context.

It is within this context that the European Commission, DG DEVCO – EuropeAid, Fragility and Resilience Unit, commissioned the development of the “EU Staff handbook for operating in situations of conflict and fragility” in 2014 (Available also in French: “Un guide à l’intention du personnel de l’UE – Agir dans les situations de conflit et de fragilité“).

This is a handbook written by staff. It recounts staff experience as told in the first person and documented in evaluations. As such, it seeks to reap the benefits of the EU’s rich experience in situations of conflict and fragility.

It is also a handbook written for staff. As such it hopes to provide staff, who have been newly deployed to such situations, with a useful overview of current concepts, policies, instruments and good practices. It does not set out new policies or procedures at length; instead, it summarises them in a single document and points to where more detailed guidance and documentation can be obtained.

Last but not least, it is a living handbook. As new challenges emerge — be they related to demography, new technologies, climate change or identity politics — the business model for engaging in situations of conflict and fragility will evolve. This handbook will reflect the new developments and lessons learned.

All in all, this handbook constitutes a valuable summary of what we have learned so far and the instruments we have created and applied to date. We hope it will help staff to further draw on and enrich the vast knowledge and resource base that we have amassed in order to address the challenges of conflict and fragility effectively, be they entrenched and chronic, or emerging and unfamiliar.

The European Commission, DG DEVCO Fragility and Resilience Unit on the Handbook:

2. Inter-agency Workshop on strengthening Cooperation in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries

This workshop was the pilot course of a new era of intra-agency cooperation. During five days of intense knowledge sharing the participants discussed the following issues: The role of rule of law in FCAS, the role of governance and state building approaches, employment/income generation and access to basic services and a NEW DEAL – a window of opportunity to strengthen donor coordination in FCAS.

What were the outcomes?

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • To set up joint mechanisms at country level to develop indicators during the design of State Building Contracts by the EU in fragile countries.
  • To create inter-agency technical and fact-finding missions to FCAS.
  • To establish common mechanisms for peer review policies, guidance and knowledge products, etc.
  • To work together in fragile and conflict-affected countries to increase the complementarity between donor agencies.
  • To establish Government-led joint monitoring mechanisms.

In the spirit of this innovative approach, 40 countries and organisations have endorsed the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan at the end 2011. The New Deal sets out a framework for more effective international engagement in fragile and conflict-affected countries and commits its signatories to support inclusive country-led and country-owned transitions out of fragility. Placing at the heart of donors interventions five peace building and state building goals (legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations and revenue and services), the New Deal also commits national actors and their international partners to use resources more effectively, more transparently, to invest more in country systems, to build critical local capacities and to deliver timely and predictable aid.

Strengthening partnerships with other donors through the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States opened up a new space for fragile and conflict-affected countries to take on the major challenges of transitioning from instability to development. With the New Deal, donors have acknowledged that collaboration with other international agencies multiplies the advantages that each organization offers.

The European Union and the United Nations Development Programme are closely working together in an attempt to enhance donor coordination, to reduce aid fragmentation and to push forward the New Deal agenda. Hence, both organisations are committed to preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. In line with this goal, the European Commission’s Agenda for Change proposes a set of measures tackling the challenges of security, fragility and transition, and leading to an increased volume and share of EU aid to the countries most in need and where the EU can have a real impact – fragile states.


  • Strengthening Cooperation in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries.
  • To contribute to the exchanges and knowledge sharing among practitioners working in the field of development cooperation on their approaches and good practices in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries.

Learning offer

  • Joint Learning Events: The group’s first Joint Learning Event took place in Brussels in September 2013 in form of an Inter-Agency Workshop on Strengthening Donor Coordination in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries. As a collaborative initiative of DG DEVCO EuropeAid, other Commission services, the European External Action Service, UNDP, USAID and the World Bank, the inaugural Inter-agency Workshop on Strengthening Cooperation in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries provided a unique opportunity for representatives of the EU institutions, UN system organisations, USAID and the World Bank to come together and exchange on the most frequent challenges they are all confronted with when implementing development programmes in high-risk environments.


  • Open courses: We carry out courses that are open to other member organisations in addition to our own staff. The FCM expert group has made available an e-learning course on Natural Resources and Conflict. The online course aims at providing understanding of the link between natural resources and conflict to its participants, as well as their overall effect on development. Besides, the course shall deliver understanding of the relationship between land, conflict and international action; how to analyse extractive industries with a prevention lens and how to design strategies and programmes to respond to situations where extractive industries are either a driving force, or a contributing factor, to violent conflict; how increasing pressures on renewable resources can lead to conflict and what we need to consider when designing a conflict prevention and natural resource management strategy.
  • Learning material: We produce publications that can be consulted via the section resources. We developed, for example, a Summary Report of our Inter-Agency Workshop on Strengthening Donor Coordination in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries.

First hand impressions

Please have a look at the videos below if you are interested in first hand opinions and impressions from participants of our Inter-agency Workshop on strengthening Cooperation in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries.

1. Vincent Dowd, Head of Cooperation in DRC reflects on the importance of bringing programme and policy practitioners together:

2. Sharmeela Rasool, CTA for Rule of Law in UNDP Pakistan encourages Donor organizations to do away with institutional silos:

3. Birgit Loeser in charge of planning civilian CSDP missions for the EU highlights the importance for mission planers to understanding who are the other actors active in the country where the mission is being deployed, and what are their approaches and capacities:

3. Training on EU External Action: Fragility, Security and Development in a Changing World:

Acknowledging the importance of building the skills and the knowledge of the staff working in/on fragile and conflict-affected countries, between 14th and 16th April 2014, the European Commission, DG DEVCO 07 – Fragility and Crisis Management Unit, in partnership with the European Security and Defence College and the European Institute of Public Administration, conducted the third session of the course on “EU External Action: Fragility, Security and Development in a Changing World.”

The training took place in Brussels and gathered 54 participants coming from EU institutions (European Commission, European External Action Service, European Parliament), but also from EU agencies, NATO and Member States. The overall goal was to increase the mutual understanding between security, development and humanitarian actors from EU institutions, EU Member States and EU Agencies, and to bring them all together to work in a joined-up and strategic manner in the spirit of the comprehensive approach.

For a more complete information on this course, we are pleased to provide you with some key interventions on the video below:

Upcoming events: Expert group objectives and activities planned for 2014-2015

  • EU External Action: Fragility, Security and Development in a Changing World (DG DEVCO – EuropeAid, European Security and Defence College, European Institute of Public Administration);
  • Delivering EU development assistance in fragile / crisis situations;
  • Resilience in practice;
  • Aid Effectiveness;
  • Contribution to European Security and Defence College courses.