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Maintaining basic state functions and service delivery during escalating crises

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What evidence is there for what works to maintain essential state functions and basic service delivery in escalating conflict situations? Focus on modalities and lessons from contexts like Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria.


This rapid literature review explores how to maintain essential state functions and basic service delivery during escalating conflict situations. It draws on literature and ideas from various overlapping agendas including development and humanitarian nexus; development, humanitarian and peacebuilding nexus (the “triple nexus”); fragile states; state-building; conflict sensitivity; resilience; and conflict prevention and early warning. There has been an extensive exploration of these ideas over the past decades: as the international development agenda has increasingly focussed on the needs of fragile and conflict-affected contexts (FCAS); as violent conflicts have become more complex and protracted; as the global share of poverty has become increasingly concentrated in FCAS highlighting the need to combine humanitarian crisis strategies with longer-term development strategies; as threats emanating from FCAS increasingly affect countries beyond those states and regions e.g. through serious and organised crime (SOC) networks, migration, terrorism, etc; and as global trends like climate change and demographic shifts create new stresses, opportunities, and risks (OECD, 2020; Ingram & Papoulidis, 2018; United Nations (UN) & World Bank, 2018; Ozano & Martineau, 2018).

Key findings

The development, humanitarian and peacebuilding nexus – Debates about how to better connect activities across these sectors have emerged since the 1990s and continue to expand, in line with broader changes in international development and foreign policy agendas.

A new fragile states paradigm? The fragile states agenda is undergoing what looks to be a paradigm shift to include ideas of resilience, risk and vulnerabilities; prevention; complexity; and adaptive management. A key aspect of this is the acknowledgment of the centrality of politics – a key response to the critique that the fragile states’ agenda was too technocratic.

The resilience agenda – Resilience thinking is now a key framework through which to understand: why some societies are particularly vulnerable to violence (the so-called fragility-to resilience paradigm); the complex, multiple connections between conflict, crises, disasters, and poverty; the importance of risk analysis and preparedness to mitigate against vulnerabilities and to build on already existing capacities; the importance of social capital and social cohesion in FCAS; and the importance of including local communities in peacebuilding and development processes. Yet while resilience (and ‘building back better’) is increasingly referred to in policy discussions and practices, important challenges remain in defining, understanding, analysing, and operationalising this framework in politically and technically feasible ways.

Prevention – Conflict prevention and stabilisation approaches are increasingly integrated with this resilience framework, e.g. with both seeking to identify risks and reduce vulnerabilities to conflict and crisis. An important element of the prevention agenda is the need for mechanisms to allow greater synergies among diplomacy and mediation, security, and development activities. Lessons include: sustaining prevention activities over time to address structural issues, to strengthen institutions, and to adapt incentives; ensuring prevention activities are inclusive and build broad partnerships; and ensuring prevention activities proactively and directly target patterns of exclusion and institutional weaknesses that increase risks (UN & World Bank, 2018, p.xxvi).