Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and fellow Co-Chairs of the Council on State Fragility urge for a global COVID-19 response strategy

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and former President of the African Development Bank Donald P. Kaberuka, are calling on the global community to recognize the additional risks being posed to fragile states by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While some initially believed that their more youthful populations and relative isolation could spare some fragile states from the worst effects of the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that the crisis will likely have a devastating impact:

“What any country needs to withstand a pandemic is precisely what fragile states lack: a government with the institutional capacity to devise and deliver a comprehensive plan of action, effective police to enforce rules, social programs to deliver money and supplies, and health services to care for the infected.”

As Co-Chairs for The Council on State Fragility, an initiative from the International Growth Centre, they highlight the lack of state capacity and mistrust in government as barriers to mounting an effective response to the crisis, and share their priorities for fragile states as the pandemic continues to evolve: 

“A strong private sector is also a necessary component of effective, resilient states. People must be able to work to support their families, and governments must generate tax revenues to help those who cannot. Yet fragile states typically lack the formal economy through which to meet these needs.” 

The Council on State Fragility acknowledges the unique challenges faced by some states as the situation develops in Africa. In addition to the scarcity of resources such as ventilators, there is also an economic impact on trade as commodity prices and oil revenues fall. Countries that rely on food imports are now facing the threat of hunger and famine.

The group’s aim is to encourage richer states to take these factors, as well as scientific research and economic and social context, into consideration when responses to the pandemic are being developed both nationally and globally. For example, there is evidence that “smart containments” of local outbreaks, can often be more effective and appropriate than nationwide lockdowns:

The Council has provided five recommendations for all governments, ranging from the need to ensure social protections, enable domestic food production, and support local businesses, to guaranteeing affordable access to any vaccine, and the provision of financial support from the G20: 

“e call on all G20 members to commit to debt moratoriums, not just until next year, but rather for the duration of the crisis. Moreover, it is essential that all fragile states secure emergency funding to support efforts to curb COVID-19 and mitigate its economic impact – including countries that are not ordinarily eligible for funding from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund.”

As the sense of urgency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic slows as lockdown measures are eased and economies restart in some countries, there are fears that the worst may still be to come for fragile states. Therefore, the group calls for swift action to mitigate the worst effects:

“If there is one thing we have learned from this crisis, it is that lives and livelihoods will be saved if we can move faster than the virus.”

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