The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report

Blogs hosted by large institutions can often be a bit hit-and-miss, but the World Bank’s blog on conflict and development is an exception to the rule. The blog is a tie-in with the 2011 World Development Report, which will be on state fragility and violent conflict; most of the WDR core team – including Bruce Jones (David and my co-author on Confronting the Long Crisis of Globalization, who’s on secondment to the team as its senior adviser on multilateral issues) – are posting on the site.

As part of the research process, the project team are engaged on a grand tour of the globe’s troube spots, blogging as they go. Yesterday Nigel Roberts, one of the report’s directors, was in Gaza City, wondering “what the %*$& happened here”; last month he was in Helmand, pondering Gerald Templer’s lessons on counter-insugency; in November he was in Nepal, reflecting that “peoples’ expectations of what ethnic federalism can deliver seem out of all proportion to what any devolved Nepalese state can do”. Meanwhile, the report’s other director, Sarah Cliffe, was in Haiti shortly before the earthquake, looking at drugs and gang-related violence. At the same time, the team have commissioned a flotilla of research inputs – no less than 37 background papers and case studies designed to review the data, explore thematic issues, and draw lessons from a battery of geographical case studies. (The full list of background studies is here.)

This WDR comes amid changing times on the conflict front. As the project’s overview paper notes, the incidence and severity of state-to-state and civil war have declined significantly in recent years – but it’s not all good news. Not only are there ongoing problems such as long-running conflicts that have resisted resolution, post-conflict countries at risk of relapse, and regimes who’ve been isolated without conclusion; a range of new issues also seems to be coming into play… 

Some countries once seen as stable have experienced recent violence. Sub-national conflict in otherwise stable middle-income countries is a significant phenomenon, and organized crime and drug trafficking now make use of cross-border networks which threaten poorer regions, middle-income countries and high-income nations. The WDR will examine new datasets to assess the implications of these trends, as well as potential triggers of future conflict, such as rising youth unemployment; water, land and fuel shortages; nuclear proliferation; religious militancy; and climate change.

I’ve just finished writing the team’s background study on what climate change and resource scarcity mean for the risk of violent conflict (more on that at a later date). It’s been great to work with such an interdisciplinary team – and sobering to reflect on the risk drivers that lie ahead.