July 18, 2019 | By Kat Sisler

You Should Know: Global Fragility Act of 2019

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to announce a new blog series, Policies for a Nourished Future, which reviews domestic and international policies meant to address issues of global food security. For the next eight weeks, we will discuss areas of importance to the future of food such as technology, waste, and resilience, and the policies meant to address them. Without robust and proactive policy frameworks, nourishing our growing world will become increasingly challenging and expensive. 

By Kat Sisler

The global population is predicted to swell to 9.7 billion by 2050. Supplying plentiful and nutritious food will continue to be a challenge, especially with the addition of climate volatility and rising inequality. Fragile states, countries with insufficient coping strategies and inability to absorb risk, are some of the most in danger for food insecurity. Hunger is not necessarily a precondition for instability, as The Council’s 2016 When Hunger Strikes report found. However, in recent years we’ve seen countless examples of a fragile state descending into political turmoil and unrest due to lack of food or food price volatility: the instability in Haiti and Madagascar in 2007-2008, the Arab Spring in 2011, and recently the crisis in Venezuela and the inability of a government to feed its people.

Addressing fragility is not a new– in fact, US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) current portfolio recognizes the need to target countries that are facing some degree of fragility, as those are often areas with the highest need for food assistance. There is a new effort underway in Congress to codify and coordinate across agencies a strategy specifically aimed at fragility. The Global Fragility Act of 2019, originating in the House, creates a coordinated and efficient way to address areas of conflict and unrest at their roots, before  the US has to put troops on the ground to alleviate crises like instability and famine. This focuses US strategy on mitigation and response as well as prevention and provides USAID and the State Department with new tools.

Why is this important to the United States?

Costs of Not Acting: The 2018 Report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs predicted the economic cost of conflict and violence was $14.8 trillion, or 12.4 percent of global GDP. As populations continue to rise, the number of young adults seeking job opportunities will rise. If opportunities are not provided in their home countries, they’ll have to seek alternatives. The Council’s 2018 Youth for Growth report found that young people who lack economic opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty are faced with increased pressure to migrate, and are more likely to participate in extremism, piracy, crime, and social unrest.

Humanitarian Costs: The World Bank estimates that conflicts drive 80 percent of humanitarian needs across the globe. As conflict has increased globally, we’ve seen forced displacement and increased strain on nations as they attempt to resettle refugees from conflict-riddled areas. We’ve seen famines and food price spikes that lead into political instability and unrest. We’ve seen the collapse of healthcare systems which threatens the reoccurrence of diseases long thought to be under control, such as malaria and dengue, which threatens not just the area of unrest but populations across continents. By prioritizing and providing stability before a country deals with conflict, the US can continue a long bipartisan history of global humanitarian leadership while saving millions of dollars and lives.

US National Security Implications: Not only are there incredible humanitarian and economic costs associated with fragile states, there are national security implications for the United States. As noted in the Final Report of the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, “if we can mitigate the underlying conditions that allow extremism to emerge and spread in these states, the United States will be closer to breaking out of the costly cycle of perpetual crisis response, pushing back against the growing threat of extremism, and positioning itself effectively for strategic engagement with its competitors.” Failed states are often a breeding ground for terrorism and extremism: no better is this exemplified than with Syria’s civil war that led the Islamic State to declare a caliphate in 2014. Not only does providing support for countries and empowering local and national actors to address the concerns of their citizens create near-impossible environments for extremism to thrive in, it saves the US money–the Defense Department spent $13 billion just in Syria alone in 2018. .

The Global Fragility Act:

The House’s Global Fragility Act of 2019 (GFA) is bipartisan legislation focused on addressing the root causes of violence and conflict in fragile states. By creating a 10-year strategy (“Global Fragility Initiative”) which brings together the State Department,USAID, and the Department of Defense, GFA seeks to create a whole-of-government approach to stability while focusing on prevention in areas of conflict around the world.

What does it mean to be a fragile state?

OECD defines fragility as “the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks. Fragility can lead to negative outcomes including violence, the breakdown of institutions, displacement, humanitarian crises or other emergencies.”

How will target countries be decided?

Priority countries and priority regions will be decided by the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense. Choices will be made by examining multiple sources, including various global fragility indicators, the US Government conflict watch list, and levels of violence, particularly relating to extremism, gender-based violence, and violence against children. The willingness of national and sub-national entities to work with the US government in stabilization efforts will also be considered. The legislation requires a report be provided to Congress every two years, detailing progress on the initiative.

To meet their goals, the House version of the bill creates two separate funds. The Stabilization and Prevention Fund, administered by the Department of State and USAID, will focus on economic and development assistance. The Complex Crises Fund, administered by USAID, will focus on prevention or response to emerging or unforeseen challenges and complex crises overseas.

What is the current status?

On May 20th, the House passed its version of GFA (HR 2116), which is the bill described here. There is a companion bill in the Senate (S 727), which differs from the House bill by including a multilateral fund in addition to the two funds mentioned above. On June 25th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the bill out of committee with an amendment. When the bill will be up for vote in the Senate is to be determined.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

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Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.