Threats to Human Security heightening menacingly


An Afghan child is brought to a hospital after being injured in a mortar explosion in Kandahar on July 1, 2015 - AFP

‘Tell these people not to attack children…..I want to study not die.’ These are the words of a 12 year old survivor of a mortar attack in war-torn Afghanistan which killed four others. One in every four war casualties in Afghanistan is a child, the UN points out in a recent report which goes on to indicate that there were a record 11,002 civilian casualties in the Afghan conflict in 2015, a four percent rise over the ‘previous high in 2014’.

Underscoring the fact that it is those sections that are seen as weak which are the prime casualties in contemporary war, the UN study also points out that there was a 37 percent hike in the female casualties of war in Afghanistan in 2015. That is, one in ten war casualties is a woman.

UN special representative for Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom best expressed the tragic fallout from the Afghan war when he said: ‘The real cost is measured in the maimed bodies of children, the communities who have to live with loss, the grief of colleagues and relatives, the families who make do without a breadwinner, the parents who grieved the lost children, the children who grieved the lost parents.’ What is true of Afghanistan is true all other societies which are wilting in the grip of conflict and war.

Sri Lanka too suffered these consequences of war over a three decade period and it is relevant for Sri Lanka to recollect in the present times when reconstruction, rehabilitation and demilitarization are believed to be receiving the attention of the state that unless and until lives are fully mended and the well being of its citizenry is completely guaranteed by the state along all the relevant parameters, there could be no real peace and security in the country.

While engaged in ensuring these needs, all concerned sections in Sri Lanka would do well to remember that the notion of ‘zero civilian casualties’ in war is nothing but nonsense. Let’s also remember that every war is a ‘dirty war’.

As this is being written, air raids on hospitals in Syria have claimed more than 50 civilian lives. Many of these victims are children, reports said. We have here added stark proof that it is civilians who suffer most in conflict and war. It would be revealing to know the number of civilian deaths which occur against each combatant who is felled in these war zones. This ratio could set the more sensitive sections of the world thinking.

The international community has come to realize that there are formal and informal threats to security and theaters of war, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, help to highlight these dimensions in the conceptualization of security and well being. That war and armed conflict are the more traditional threats to national security hardly warrants any debating but informal threats to a country’s peace and security need some probing and unraveling because these factors are yet to be fully understood.

What needs to be brought into public discussion urgently and perceptively is the concept of Human Security. National security is commonly seen as state power but it is vital to recognize that national security has a pronounced human dimension too. State power could be achieved through the bolstering of a country’s defence and coercive capabilities. But in the process, Human Security could go unrecognized, as is happening in South Asia, for example. This region spends some 60 billion dollars on arms annually, but is home to two thirds of Asia’s poor. The latter, if continuously neglected, could degenerate into a reservoir of discontent. Needless to say, states could have no durable stability if the citizenry within them are angry at the state of things.

Accordingly, governments in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres would do well to ensure Human Security, understood as the guaranteeing of a country’s material and psychosocial well being. In the absence of the latter factors, huge armies and armaments would be to no avail.

The provision of Human Security by governments would, however, require the removal of what are seen as informal or non-traditional sources of insecurity. That is, the focus needs to be on the human person and his legitimate needs. A country’s defence sector could ensure its territorial integrity, or traditional security, but may not be the best guarantor against poverty and underdevelopment, for example.

It is the alleviation of the latter factors by governments that could pave the way for reducing informal threats to the people’s well being and bolster Human Security in the process. In this context, Sri Lanka presents the commentator with some intriguing ‘contradictions’.

The World Bank Group in a recently released report on the Sri Lankan economy, titled Systematic Country Diagnostic, has pointed to falling poverty in this country as one of its more exemplary aspects. However, it also highlights increasing income inequality and potential large-scale poverty as things Sri Lanka needs to be worried about. For instance, the WB has this to say: ‘Many people are at the risk of falling back into poverty as over 40 percent of the population live on less than 225 rupees per person per day.’

As far as the investigative journalist and reflective commentator is concerned, this is the ‘whole point’ in the WB report. If Sri Lanka has made great strides in poverty alleviation, how could as much as 40 percent of the country’s population be at a risk of sliding into poverty, since they live on less than Rs 225 per person per day? Besides, how could Sri Lanka qualify for the flattering titles, ‘Middle Income Country’ and ‘Emerging Economy’?

As we wait to be enlightened by the WB and other relevant quarters on how these ‘contradictions’ could be resolved, we could take the position that financial uncertainty is a very important informal threat to Human Security in Sri Lanka. Could Rs. 225 satisfy a person’s everyday needs, particularly in view of the appreciating value of the dollar against currencies such as ours? It would not be wrong to presume that a considerable section of our middle class is already mired in economic hardship which is hard to bear. And continued poverty brings premature death.

However, in the war zones, traditional sources of insecurity, such as the destruction of civilian centres, combine with economic insecurity to compound the suffering of people. Thus, is the world facing the possibility of chronic material instability and volatility.

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