World Bank Engagement in Situations of Conflict: An Evaluation of FY10–20 Experience

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Achieving poverty reduction and shared prosperity increasingly depends on the World Bank’s ability to effectively engage in conflict-affected environments. The World Bank Group has made a strong commitment to address the rising levels of poverty and human suffering in conflict-affected countries.

Globally, conflict is becoming more complex and intense. The increasing intensity of warfare presents significant risks to an expanded volume of World Bank commitments in conflict-affected situations. Conflict actors are also more diverse—and are becoming increasingly internationalized; consequently, working in conflict-affected situations has become more complex. Complicating the battle against extreme poverty is the interaction among conflict, climate change, and the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), which is resulting in a reversal of poverty eradication gains.

The World Bank has adapted the way it works in conflict-affected situations. It has done this, among other things, by launching an ambitious fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) strategy; introducing a new methodology for classifying conflict-affected countries on its list of fragile and conflict-affected situations; updating its conflict analysis methodology and operational policies based on lessons from experience; deepening and formalizing its partnerships with the United Nations (UN) and humanitarian agencies; and increasing the availability of finance tailored to various phases of conflict and fragility. Altogether, the share of commitments to conflict-affected countries, as a percentage of all new World Bank commitments, has risen from 5 percent in fiscal year (FY)10 to an annual average of 15 percent during FY15–20, or from $2.7 billion in FY10 to $7.2 billion in commitments in FY19. Over the same period, conflict-affected International Development Association (IDA)–eligible countries’ share of new commitments more than doubled.

The purpose of this evaluation is to surface lessons to inform early implementation of the World Bank’s FCV strategy in situations of conflict. The evaluation analyzes how the World Bank works differently in conflict-affected situations by assessing four key aspects of engagement: (i) the extent to which the World Bank identified and addressed conflict drivers and risks at the strategy and country levels; (ii) how these drivers and risks are integrated into operations; (iii) the ways in which the World Bank has adapted its engagement by working with clients during situations of political instability, partnering with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, leveraging corporate security, and adjusting its portfolio instruments; and (iv) how the World Bank has contributed to project-level results and higher-level outcomes related to peace and stability.

Identifying and Addressing Conflict Risks at the Strategy and Country Levels

The identification and analysis of fragility factors and conflict drivers, relevant for achieving development effectiveness, have improved over the evaluation period. This is due to IDA FCV policy commitments, the development of the FCV strategy, country management commitment, and the elevation of the Risk and Resilience Assessments (RRAs) to a core diagnostic to inform lending. Compared with those of the first half of the evaluation period (2010–15), more recent conflict analyses are twice as likely to identify relevant factors of fragility and to articulate specifically how these factors influence conflict and violence.

However, the client-facing nature and the potentially broad distribution of conflict analyses in the World Bank have sometimes prevented frank assessments of fragility and conflict drivers, limiting the transmission of conflict considerations into portfolio and operational decisions. Specifically, the analyses and redress of conflict drivers has proven difficult when the root causes of conflict are overtly political (that is, geopolitics, elite capture, corruption, and pervasive governance challenges). Although these issues may be understood by World Bank country managers, the limited availability to task teams of information on the political contributors to conflict undermines efforts to tailor operations to conflict drivers. Also, the quality of the diagnostic, or hard-to-operationalize or missing recommendations in conflict analyses, have sometimes limited the transmission of conflict considerations into strategy and operations.

Conflict-informed sector advisory services and analytics prepared in the wake of political or social upheaval have helped country teams navigate local dynamics to inform World Bank responses. For instance, after Madagascar’s 2009 coup and during its political transition, the World Bank suspended disbursements and significantly cut back lending but ramped up nonlending activities. This enabled it to supplement its understanding of technical issues across sectors with conflict- and political economy–related factors. Much the same was true after conflict events in Burundi (2014–15), Iraq (2014–16), Myanmar (2017), and South Sudan (2013–present).

However, few sector advisory services and analytics conducted before major warring activities discussed conflict or political economy–related factors. Virtually all sectoral advisory services and analytics conducted before conflict—and easily accessible by staff (many political economy analyses remain confidential)—were not conflict sensitive.

Country teams are increasingly innovating with real-time conflict risk identification and monitoring. Although these efforts have been developed in reaction to major conflict-related events that posed significant risks to the World Bank and country portfolios, many have been sustained as a portfolio monitoring tool. Critical to these efforts is the use of local knowledge gleaned from social media, newspapers, and word of mouth, as well as the ability to interpret these events in relation to decisions that are taken in real time to adapt the World Bank’s country engagement.