By: Dr. Rajkumar Singh
With the staggering number of victims, the pandemic is now being compared to a war. We do not yet have an effective vaccine or proven treatment, and the development of a vaccine may take a year or longer. The world is currently left with non-pharmaceutical interventions to slow and mitigate the transmission of the virus, including bans on public events, school and university closures, and even local and national lockdowns. The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, it is a human security crisis — depriving our freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live with dignity. The pandemic demands a human security approach of comprehensive, across-the-board human protection and empowerment. When the concept of human security was introduced in policy discussions in the 1990s, the approach was criticised for broadening security threats beyond war. In 2020, we are learning that an epidemic, which has killed more than two lakhs people around the world it undermines our security and safety. In responding, a medical solution alone is not enough. Measures should also address knock-on effects in health, economics, politics, society and culture.
Wide affected areas of human security
While the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, its implications are more far-reaching and could threaten global peace and security. In this situation solidarity is needed if the world is to defeat the crisis, especially at a time when Governments are already struggling to address rising unemployment and economic downturn. Further, the pandemic also poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security — potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease. The Covid-19 could undermine global peace and security, beginning with a further erosion of trust in public institutions if people perceive that their authorities had mishandled response or were not transparent. The pandemic’s economic impacts could create “major stressors” in fragile societies or less developed countries, for example, while the ensuing economic instability will have devastating consequences for women as they make up the majority in the worst-affected sectors. In the context it is also feared that electoral processes could be affected as postponing or proceeding with votes could spark political tensions and undermine legitimacy. In some sectors uncertainty created by the pandemic may create incentives for some actors to promote further division and turmoil. This could lead to an escalation of violence and possibly devastating miscalculations, which could further entrench ongoing wars and complicate efforts to fight the pandemic. Terrorism and bioterrorism fears with most Governments focused on the pandemic, terrorist groups could see “a window of opportunity to strike”, with the situation in the Sahel a particular concern. The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks.
Other challenge of human security
As governments struggle to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, billions of people living in countries teetering on the brink of economic collapse are being threatened further by a looming debt crisis, according to a new UN report. Women Limited gains in gender equality and women’s rights made over the decades are in danger of being rolled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the economic front, stock markets have plummeted as the global outbreak intensifies. The pandemic has caused an economic contraction more serious than the global financial crisis in 2008. The global value chain has been hard hit. The economic effect is not elsewhere but everywhere. The closures and lockdowns have affected both goods and services industries. The entire world population is suffering from fear and want. The pandemic also impacts politics, both domestic and international. Some seek to gain from the pandemic, leading to further competition and confrontation among nation states. For example, several people including a US diplomate have remarked that China — after failing to take immediate steps during the initial outbreak — is now claiming success in battling the virus and is spearheading the provision of medical assistance to other nations, including Italy, Serbia and Iran. The COVID-19 pandemic also risks affecting traditional security by sending the wrong signal to those keen to develop biological weapons.
Regional co-operation can ensure human security
The virus does not respect national borders in its transmission. No nation can get out of the pandemic alone. If nation states tilt for competition and confrontation, we will certainly lose this war. The only option is to cooperate to shape a globally and regionally coordinated response. Accurate information sharing is key to successful containment and to prevent misinformation. In the immediate future, the Asia Pacific region needs to mobilise medical professionals to assist countries in need. If so required, the military should be mobilised to build emergency hospitals and to utilise military medical teams trained in handling emergencies. Military ships could also be converted into hospitals. The most important immediate priority is to develop a vaccine, diagnostic tools and treatments for COVID-19. In order to avoid duplicated efforts, we will need to share best practices and clinical test results to develop an effective medical intervention to halt the pandemic. Regular teleconferencing by leaders can help enable the identification of challenges, the sharing of best practices and the creation of new approaches to address the pandemic and its knock-on effects. Regional cooperation will ease the fear and want of the entire regional population and allow us to live with more dignity.
The author is Professor and Head, University Department of Political Science, B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura, Madhepura-852113. Bihar, India. Email- [email protected]