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Firm Priorities for Fragile States

The rich world can no longer reassure itself that poor countries will avoid the worst of the COVID-19 crisis by virtue of their isolation. The pandemic is now hitting these countries especially hard, underscoring the urgent need for renewed global action.

LONDON/MONROVIA/KIGALI – No country has been spared the impact of COVID-19. But some – the world’s most “fragile states” – face a particularly difficult set of challenges. Before the pandemic arrived, Yemen, Sudan, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and other struggling countries were already beset by poverty, conflict, corruption, and poor governance. Now, these factors leave them especially ill-equipped to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

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.

A lack of state capacity is immediately evident in the domain of public health. Whereas Europe has 4,000 intensive care beds per million people, many parts of Africa have just five per million. Mali has just three ventilators for the entire country.