To me, it sounds like a species of tropical plant, but it is an acronym used by the World Bank and other IGOs and NGOs to refer to a specific group of less-developed countries. According the the World Bank, LICUS, which is an acronym for Low Income Countries Under Stress, are
are countries with weak policies, institutions, and governance.
The World Bank’s IEG (Independent Evaluation Group) set out to evaluate the role of the Bank’s efforts to aid these countries in their bid to develop economically and politically. From the report:
Home to almost 500 million people, roughly half of whom earn less than a dollar a day, fragile states, until recently known in the World Bank as low-income countries under stress (LICUS), have attracted increasing attention. Concern is growing about the ability of these countries to reach development goals as well as about the adverse economic effects they have on neighboring countries and the global spillovers that may follow.
With their multiplicity of chronic problems, these countries pose some of the toughest development challenges. Poor governance and extended internal conflicts are common among these countries, which all face similar hurdles: weak security, fractured societal relations, corruption,breakdown in the rule of law, and lack of mechanisms for generating legitimate power and authority. As low-income countries, LICUS also have a huge backlog of investment needs and limited government resources to meet them.
Past international engagement with these countries has failed to yield significant improvements, and donors and others continue to struggle with how best to assist fragile states. LICUS are characterized by weak policies, institutions, and governance. The Bank identified 25 such countries in fiscal year 2005. These 25 countries have a number of similarities: their infant mortality rate is a third higher than that of other low-income countries, life expectancy is 12 years lower, and their maternal mortality rate is about 20 percent higher.
There are also important differences among LICUS. Some grew at around 4 percent per annum during 1995-2003. Others had negative growth rates of a similar magnitude. Some have abundant natural resources, while others are resource-poor. These differences are recognized in four business models that the Bank developed to work with countries in crisis: deterioration, prolonged crisis or impasse, post-conflict or political transition, and gradual improvement.
Countries in light blue are characterized as “core” LICUS countries, while those in dark blue are “severe” LICUS countries.