Despite myriad descriptions and indicators used to define a fragile state, the international community has come to an agreement that a fragile state lacks the ability to maintain physical control of its territorial boundaries, provide basic public services, facilitate economic growth, and interact as a full member of the international community. Fragile states have historically experienced a disproportionate amount of natural disaster-related losses. For example, from 2005 to 2009, more than 50% of those impacted by a natural disaster lived in a fragile state, resulting in over $200 billion in losses. When natural disasters occur in such areas, they exacerbate already weak governance structures and further undermine their governments’ capability to respond to the crisis while simultaneously addressing challenges related to poverty and conflict. To remedy these and other complex issues inherent in fragile states, scholars are beginning to recognize the importance of investigating how fragile states can mitigate natural disaster losses through effective agency coordination and cross-sector collaboration. Agency coordination, in the context of natural disaster response, refers to the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication by public agencies for supporting incident response activities. Cross-sector collaboration refers to the sharing of information and resources by organizations in two or more sectors to achieve an outcome that cannot be produced by organizations in one sector alone. Because forecasts suggest that natural disaster-related losses will only increase in fragile states owing to population growth, urbanization, and climate change, there is a pressing need to understand the ways public organizations not only coordinate before, during, and after a natural disaster, but also how they collaborate across organizational sectors.
Abdul-Akeem Sadiq and Jenna Tyler
While known to be important and essential for improved effectiveness and efficiency, cross-sector coordination and collaboration among different actors engaged in postdisaster recovery is fraught with complications. Among the challenges are (a) who leads, and how; (b) the capacity and roles of the host government; (c) governance structures within organizations (which may differ a great deal); (d) assumptions of power; (e) the trade-off between valuing relationships and “getting the job done”; and (f) the varying constraints (and opportunities) of accountability. Recognizing the need to improve joint actions for a better response, the Humanitarian Reform Agenda (HRA), begun in 2005, led to the remolding of collective models of disaster response and the adoption of the global cluster system, which is essentially organized around the delivery of goods and services (sectors) by traditional aid actors such as the United Nations (UN), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. While the cluster system has largely been acknowledged as an improvement in collaboration among actors, a perennial challenge of cross-sector coordination remains. One of the opportunities for improvement lies in better and more predictable leadership, one of the key areas identified by the HRA. Another opportunity lies in changing the focus from a supply-driven approach of prioritizing what aid providers deliver to a demand-driven understanding, such as that offered by area-based approaches, wherein sectors are more closely aligned. A common form of collaboration within aid is partnership between various actors (e.g., the United Nations or NGOs). Partnerships assume more than a constructing relationship: Effective partnerships emphasize the need for transparency and equity, along with being results-oriented and competent. Recognizing this, the Grand Bargain, resulting from the World Humanitarian Summit, noted that aid providers should engage with local and national responders in a spirit of partnership and aim to reinforce rather than replace local and national capacities. Partnerships, however, fall short all too often, especially when one partner has power over the other, which is often the case. The report Time to Let Go, by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), notes, for instance, that “the relationships between donor and implementer, aid provider and recipient, remain controlling and asymmetrical, and partnerships and interactions remain transactional and competitive, rather than reciprocal and collective.” The challenge remains to achieve the task at hand, while at the same time engaging in effective collaborative mechanisms that value the nature of the relationship. If this is not achieved, effective postdisaster recovery can be jeopardized.