The two fragilities: Vulnerability to conflict, environmental stress, and their interactions as challenges to ending poverty

Stephen C. Smith
Stephen C. Smith Headshot
Stephen C. Smith Former Brookings Expert, Professor of Economics and International Affairs - The George Washington University

September 9, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is a chapter from “The Last Mile in Ending Extreme Poverty,” which explores the challenges and steps needed to end extreme poverty.

This chapter examines two types of fragility, environmental and governmental,
and their interactions. Increasing environmental fragility, resulting
from both external climate change impacts and domestic activities, is a worsening
problem in many developing countries. Climate adaptations include large-scale
migration and accelerated exploitation of natural resources, leading to heightened
risks of conflict. Examples from experiences in such countries as Bangladesh,
Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda illustrate the conflict risks of maladaptation
by individuals and communities. In addition, maladaptation by governments,
such as shortsighted or interest-group-dominated environmental resource mismanagement,
can also increase conflict risk and undermine development prospects.
Violent conflict can also lead to significant environmental degradation, as experienced in, for example, Afghanistan, Nepal, Congo, and Sierra Leone.
Accordingly, complementarities between the two fragilities—governmental and
environmental—are becoming increasingly salient.

The issues raised in this chapter may seem abstract, if not a concern only
for the distant future, even where the need to begin contingency planning is
acknowledged. But the chapter offers thirty-five examples of how aspects of
these problems—and also some promising solutions—have already emerged in
recent years. It explores policy options to facilitate peaceful adaptation to environmental
change, halt particularly problematic domestic environmental deterioration,
and secure the livelihoods of affected populations. Anticipating that
environmental stress will worsen in coming decades, the chapter concludes that
there are likely to be benefits for both governments and development partners if
they adopt an integrated approach to policies—and aid—in addressing conflict
and environmental resilience in development and poverty policymaking and
program design.