World Development Report 2011: Overview

World Bank


Some 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence. This report argues that breaking these cycles involves a) strengthening legitimate national institutions and governance to meet citizens’ key needs; and b) alleviating international stresses that increase the risks of conflict (such as food price volatility and infiltration by trafficking networks). It is important to: refocus assistance on confidence building, citizen security, justice and jobs; reform the procedures of international agencies to accommodate swift, flexible, and longer-term action; respond at the regional level (such as by developing markets that integrate insecure areas and pooling resources for building capacity); and to renew cooperative efforts between lower, middle, and higher income countries.

Countries that have experienced violent conflict often face repeated waves of instability and political and criminal violence. Criminal violence frequently undermines gains made by peace processes, and weak and illegitimate institutions can lead to crises even in countries that appear stable.

Violence happens where states and sub-national governments do not provide security and access to justice, markets do not provide employment opportunities, and communities have lost social cohesion. The impact on development is severe: for example, no low-income fragile or conflict-affect country has yet achieved a single MDG.

In fragile situations, the priority for institutional transformation and good governance is to deliver citizen security, justice, and jobs. A basic level of citizen security is needed for enduring social and economic development; and a sufficiently broad coalition based on confidence in improved justice and shared economic prospects is needed to sustain momentum for change. Exceptional efforts are also needed to restore confidence in national leaders’ ability to manage the crisis—through actions that signal a break with the past and gestures that lock in these actions. Two to three early tangible results can usually restore confidence. Successful reforms in fragile contexts have:

  • Recognised the need for ‘inclusive enough’ coalitions, at both national and local levels, to generate broad support
  • Prioritised early reforms that address insecurity, injustice and lack of employment
  • Implemented pragmatic, ‘best-fit’ approaches to institutions and governance adapted to the local political context
  • Passed through a succession of transitions
  • Taken time: historically, no country has transformed its institutions in less than a generation, and reforms have taken 15-30 years.

Five approaches have been used in different country circumstances to link rapid confidence-building measures to longer-term institutional transformation. These are:

  • Support for bottom-up state-society relations in insecure areas, such as combined community-based programmes for policing, employment and service delivery, and access to local justice and dispute resolution systems
  • Security and justice reform programmes that start with the basics and recognise the links between policing and civilian justice
  • Basic job creation schemes, including large-scale public works, addressing infrastructure bottlenecks, and expanding access to skills, finance, work experience and assets
  • Involving women in the design and implementation of security, justice and economic empowerment programmes
  • Focused anti-corruption actions to demonstrate that new initiatives and revenues can be well-governed, drawing on external and community monitoring capacity.

International assistance must be adapted in order to respond effectively to cycles of violence. It is important to:

  • Invest in prevention through confidence-building, citizen security, justice and jobs. This will involve: 1) improving international capacity in providing policing and justice support; 2) investing in job creation in insecure areas; 3) providing specialised risk reduction assistance; 4) moving beyond coordination to combined programmes in risk assessment, security and justice reform, mediation support, and humanitarian transitions.
  • Reform internal agency procedures to manage risks and results. It is important to: 1) redesign budget, staffing and fiduciary systems; 2) use new risk management tools to support national institutions over the long-term in places where governance is volatile; 3) use short and longer-term indicators of progress to demonstrate returns on investment in violence prevention (by measuring people’s sense of security and trust in institutions).
  • Act regionally and globally on external stresses by 1) providing more support for cross-border development programming; 2) strengthening capacity to ‘follow the money’ of illicit trafficking and to conduct joint investigations and prosecutions; and by 3) agreeing standards on land resource purchases and natural resource revenues.
  • Marshall the combined experience and resources of low, middle and high income countries in tackling violence. This requires: 1) a renewed dialogue on international norms and expectations of responsible leadership; 2) alignment with regional processes on violence prevention; and 3) South-South and South-North exchanges on violence prevention.


World Bank, 2011, 'World Development Report 2011: Overview', World Bank, Washington, DC