How can They Live in Fragility?


How can They Live in Fragility?

At some point in life, we all have to face certain weaknesses of our own. Some people are afraid to show their weaknesses, while others become stronger through them. While we may be able to handle our own vulnerabilities, what about children living in fragility? Can they face their challenges on their own?

Caught in Conflict

Undoubtedly, we are living in a generation in which crises and disasters are more complicated than ever, often trapping the affected, especially children, helplessly deeper in the situation. According to the Global Humanitarian Overview 2019, issued by the UN, in recent years, over 120 million people have needed urgent humanitarian assistance and protection each year. Compared to the figures from ten years ago, there are now more crises, which last longer and affect more people, obviously including children.

At the end of 2017, war, armed conflict and persecution had forced 68.5 million people around the world to flee, including more than 40 million who were internally displaced, 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum seekers escaping conflict and persecution. As many as 16.2 million were newly displaced, but only 5 million people returned to their areas of origin over the same period, which explains why the number of displaced people has been on the rise. Though the UN passed the historic Global Compact on Refugees, with nations committing to support refugees in more effective and fairer ways, it is expected that refugee children and families will remain vulnerable, due to the non-legally-binding nature of the compact.
Apart from humanitarian emergencies, natural disasters also have a great impact on human lives and livelihoods. Currently, one in every four children in our world lives in a country affected by conflict or natural disasters, being exposed to violence, hunger and diseases. Between 2014 and 2017, natural disasters affected more than 870 million people each year, claiming deaths, causing economic losses and displacing people from their homes in over 160 countries and territories around the world. The World Bank points out that disasters inflict an annual cost of US$520 billion on the global economy and drag 26 million people into poverty each year.

According to a report by United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), released in October 2018, 18 million people were newly displaced due to weather-related causes, with floods, storms and drought accountable for 8.6 million, 7.5 million and 1.5 million respectively. Apart from bringing about displacements, natural disasters also inflict heavy casualties. Since 2000, natural disasters have killed an average of 130 people in every million living in affected areas in low income countries. In comparison, that figure in high income countries is only 18 per million. That is, people in the poorest countries were more than seven times more likely to die than those in the wealthiest countries when exposed to natural disasters. This shows that poor people are the most vulnerable and likely to suffer when a disaster strikes.

Living in Fragility

In fact, people’s fragility is not only related to their living conditions, but also the environment that they live in. But, what sort of environment will make people living in it fragile? International organisations all have slightly different definitions for the term “fragile context”. According to World Vision’s definition, fragile contexts are places made vulnerable to conflict and where institutions that should protect children have fractured as a result of political and social pressure, causing children to suffer extreme levels of neglect, violence, exploitation and abuse. Fragility can cover many countries or only a few neighbourhoods, and can change rapidly, either expanding or shifting the scope of impact.

There are usually more than one reason why fragile contexts form. To determine which countries and territories fall into the category of fragile context, World Vision maintains a Fragility Index based on the Maplecroft Composite, the Global Peace Index of The Institute for Economics and Peace, and the Fragile States Index of The Fund for Peace.

Of the fragile states where World Vision works, most are being affected by conflict, including Syria and South Sudan, resulting in political and social instability, as well as more difficult lives for the people. Due to conflict, many have been displaced, both internally and internationally, in search of opportunities to survive. This shows that conflict is a main culprit for the existence of fragile contexts, which, generally speaking, include the following four characteristics:

  1. In fragile contexts, the trust in social contract has broken down and the people do not believe that the government can properly handle their demands.

  2. Public institutions are unable to provide basic education and health services. Children and communities are unable to respond and recover from diseases, disasters or hunger.

  3. Fragility is closely related to extreme poverty. People in fragile contexts are often influenced by environmental instability. Unable to develop livelihoods, they are often trapped deeper in poverty.

  4. As infrastructure and governance fail, fragile contexts can easily become a hotbed for extremist or terrorist groups to grow.

While children and families living in fragility desperately need help, different concerns, such as politics, local powers, low financial integrity, complex merchandising flow and the safety of rescuers, often pose challenges for international humanitarian agencies that operate in fragile contexts. Knowing that change does not happen overnight, World Vision plans short-, middle- and long- term project models according to the needs of different regions. They can be classified into three phases, namely survival, recovery and development. For example, in areas where there is a shortage of food, World Vision responds to the immediate need for food by distributing food and cash vouchers, and provides food security or livelihood development training while ensuring children receive protection and education. In areas affected by conflict, World Vision not only cares for the basic needs of those affected, but also addresses the trauma children have gone through by conducting counselling or peace advocacy courses. When conflict or tensions subside, long-term development work, ranging from education, health to livelihood, begins to assist affected children and families to rebuild their lives and recover from fragility.

Children living in fragility have long been ignored by the international community. Every day, they struggle to meet their basic needs and are deprived of the rights they are entitled to. Therefore, at a time when natural and man-made disasters have become increasingly complex, World Vision will focus on deepening our services to fragile children around the world, ensuring that not even one fragile child will be forgotten, but instead receive help and care, and be strengthened through overcoming fragility.

A Fragile State: Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), one of the fragile states in which World Vision works, is a prime example of fragile state. As one of the largest African countries by area, it is rich in natural resources, including oil, diamonds and gold. However, its history is one of tragedy. Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, DR Congo has gone through a series of coup d’états and military conflicts. In 1997, rebels overthrew the government and reverted the country’s name from the Republic of Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, causing massive casualties and leaving many people in need of basic necessities in the process. Unfortunately, conflict quickly resumed, with many countries involved in what was to be known as Africa’s first world war. Although a peace deal was reached in 2003, conflict still persists in the eastern part of the country.

Actually, since the end of the colonial era, DR Congo has never achieved a peaceful transition through democracy. The latest elections, initially scheduled for 2016, were pushed back again and again because of conflict. Eventually, the eagerly anticipated elections were held on 30 December 2018, but universal voting was still not achieved. In January this year, in response to the social instability arising from the elections, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement in which he called for all stakeholders to refrain from violence in order to preserve stability in the country.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), at least 13.1 million in DR Congo are in need of humanitarian assistance, while more than 2 million children under five are affected by severe acute malnutrition. Today, DR Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with many in the country living in poverty. Due to the political and social instability, DR Congo falls into the category of fragile contexts. World Vision has been working in the country since 1984 and currently operates in 13 provinces. In the middle of the frequent armed conflicts and natural disasters, World Vision actively responds to humanitarian emergencies, focusing on providing food, child protection, nutrition, health care, child friendly spaces (CFS) and reintegration of internal displaced people.

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