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Navigating the maze to peace

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This guest post was written by World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President Justin Yifu Lin and originally appeared on the World Development Report 2011 blog.

While much of the world has made rapid progress in building stability and reducing poverty over the past 60 years, states beset by persistent violence and fragile institutions are being left far behind.

Today, 22 out of the 34 countries furthest from reaching the Millennium Developing Goals, or MDGs, are conflict ridden or emerging from some form of turmoil. The MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015, cover hunger, poverty, child mortality, maternal health, and other key challenges.

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The plight of those 22 countries--and how prosperity eludes them--was foremost in my mind when I was in New York earlier this week to take part in a debate at the UN General Assembly on "UN Peacekeeping: Looking into the Future." The proceedings were webcast.

My session focused on the nexus between security and development. You can read my intervention here.

Let me tell you more about the daunting challenges faced by those 22 countries. They account for two out of three of all infants and children dying. They also account for three out of four of all mothers who die in childbirth.

My panel talked about these countries in the context of the challenges of multi-dimensionality of peacekeeping, peace building and development. We talked about how, after conflict, the process of reform can create stresses that reignite violence. We also touched on the dissolving boundaries between institutional mandates and the challenges this poses for international organizations.

At the center of our debate was peace in its labyrinth. I use that analogy because the path from conflict to peace is akin to the intricate structure of interconnecting passages through which it is difficult to find one's way; a maze with many back tracks.

At the World Bank we are increasingly struck by the centrality of conflict to the development agenda. In this spirit, I reported to member states on the key messages from consultations on the upcoming World Development Report 2011 on Conflict, Security and Development.

We are faced with a Catch 22: "Early recovery" and humanitarian relief stretch on for years, and many countries cycle through repeated violence. This challenges our current tendency to artificially divide conflict into linear phases and to try to adhere to relatively short timelines as laid out in agency plans and structures.

Historical data show that it takes a lot of time to transition to peace. Countries which have achieved the fastest turnarounds took at least one generation, and based their transformation on approaches that suit their own local conditions.

Given this longer time horizon, a better sequenced, broad-based approach to peace building and development makes sense. This is because treating political conflict, local conflicts over land, gang activities, and organized crime and trafficking as discrete challenges is unlikely to work. And the transnational nature of violence may require that agencies go beyond country-focused solutions.

Also, from the work on the WDR 2011, we're learning that approaches based on security alone have shown poor success. Without the hope of economic progress, it is difficult to persuade combatants, gang members or local warlords to follow a legal, peaceful path.

In other words, we should be wary of quick fixes, avoid one-size-fits-all solutions, and be more realistic in our expectations.

As Chief Economist and head of the World Bank's Development Economics Vice Presidency, JUSTIN YIFU LIN guides the Bank's intellectual leadership and plays a key role in shaping the economic research agenda of the institution. Building on a distinguished career as one of China's leading economists, Mr. Lin is undertaking an ambitious research program that examines the industrialization of rapidly developing countries and sheds new light on the causes of lagging growth in poor regions. He took up his World Bank position on June 2, 2008, after serving for 15 years as Professor and Founding Director of the China Centre for Economic Research (CCER) at Peking University.