Synergy between Human Security and Sustainable Development needs to be broadly augmented: Dr. Islam

Eak Raj Bastola

December 10, 2020

24 MIN READ

Synergy between Human Security and Sustainable Development needs to be broadly augmented: Dr. Islam
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Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam is an Associate Professor of the Department of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. He is the Visiting Scholar of Oxford and Cambridge.

Prior to joining the university, Dr. Islam was serving the United Nations for a period of seven years. He is the author of a number of textbooks published/being published from Routledge, Taylor and Francis, Springer and Kolkata. Professor Islam regularly writes for the LSE South Asia Blog, Cambridge Global Human Movement Blog, Oxford Department of International Development Blog, South Asia Studies of the National University of Singapore, the Khabarhub, the Daily Star, the Daily Independent, the Financial Express, The Business Time, the Daily Jugantor and the South Asia Monitor.

Dr. Islam has been researching the nexus between Human Security and Sustainable Development in the context of developing countries over the decade.

Thank you Dr. Islam for taking the time to speak with Khabarhub on Human Security and Sustainable Development. Excerpts:

Could you please tell our readers about the concept of human security and its emergence?

Human Security, in general, a non-traditional security approach which refers to the survival of individuals, community and even the global world.

Human security is the ability to protect humans, governments, both of them. Without a doubt, human security has been the emerging paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities without any prejudice.

It goes beyond the traditional notion of national security by arguing that the proper referent for security should be the individual rather than the state.

The strength of human security is not only in its new elements but in the growing inability of traditional concepts of security to generate adequate responses to many of the new reasons of insecurity in the world today, particularly in the post-cold war situation.

You know, the United Nations was born into a world emerging from the shadows of war and previously unimagined devastation.

The Global Human Development Report issued by the UNDP in 1994 was the first major international document to articulate human security in conceptual terms with proposals for policy and action.

It was embarked upon the ideals of peace and justice, with an international system of law and procedures to strive to replace military aggression and war through the art of negotiation and collective security action.

By the start of the 1990s particularly in the post-cold war era, the UN had basically engaged with a plethora of new issues through its policies, strategies and development program.

Following the end of the cold war, the presence of decentralized and non-conventional threats to security had turned into a potential threat towards the survival of human beings.

Although the notion of security was at the forefront of many debates, experts, academics, politicians and relevant actors across the world had felt expedient to promote the security of individual wellbeing apart from the conventional security affairs. It was in this context that the concept of human security was first put forward.

The concept of human security emerged as part of the holistic paradigm of human development cultivated at UNDP by former Pakistani Finance Minister Mahbub ul Haq with strong support from economist Amartya Sen.

The Global Human Development Report issued by the UNDP in 1994 was the first major international document to articulate human security in conceptual terms with proposals for policy and action.

Though this marked the most high-profile launching of the concept, Mahbub ul Haq and several others involved in 1994 had explored the topic at a North-South Roundtable called the ‘Economics of Peace’, held in Costa Rica in January 1990.

This approach was categorically widened to include the safety of individuals and groups from such threats as hunger, disease and political instability.

The report went on to further identify seven core elements of human security such as economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security.

Why synergy between human security and sustainable development is important?

To me, for development to be truly sustainable, it is necessary to assume the political commitment of all the world’s states, as well as to the greater collaboration of state and non-state development actors in the economy, environmental protection and social development.

Human security, focusing on the opportunities to make choices, presupposes that people have to influence the process that shapes their lives. In other words, people have to participate in different decision-making processes, implementing these decisions and monitoring them. Security, at any level, is about individuals.

The development of mankind cannot be achieved without ensuring human security. Security means that the benefits that people have reached in expanding their opportunities and improving their capabilities are protected by current social, economic, political arrangements.

The approach to human security is based on a broad social acceptance of people’s rights and obligations, based on a sustainable system within the shadow of the national government.

It is apparent that the link between human security and sustainable development is manifested in conceptual terms from the perspective of the four basic components of human development: equality in terms of fair access to opportunities; sustainability as regards responsibility for future generations as those of the present generation; productivity on human resource investigations and creating the macroeconomic environment that would allow people to reach their full potential; the sense of decision – in the sense that people have to achieve a level of individual development that would allow them to exercise options based on their own desires from a wider framework of the existing opportunity.

And of course, sustainable development through people and for people highlights an important dimension of human security, that of citizens’ participation in the creation of a peaceful, stable and justifiable global system.

According to your opinion, economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security are the components of human security. What is the current state of human security in rural Bangladesh? Briefly tell our readers.

Ideally, the answer to this question is long and I seek the endurance of my valued readers. Bangladesh has been an advocate for human security, actively promoting it by utilizing the multi-stakeholder approach.

Bangladesh has long-shared the importance of achieving human security. Rural community development in Bangladesh led to not only socioeconomic improvement but had implications for social, economic and environmental systems.

The population of rural Bangladesh faces critical issues of social, economic and environmental sustainability such as a significant decrease in water supply caused by a significant loss of water resources (springs), recurrent natural disasters and the probable impact of climate change. These issues lead to significant threats to agricultural and community livelihood.

However, rural development in Bangladesh is found to be less progressive as most community-based organizations are reported to be inactive.

Furthermore, increasing community dependency on outsiders’ help and the absence of community perceived development has contributed to the underdevelopment of rural Bangladesh, resulting in human insecurity in rural Bangladesh.

Rural development in Bangladesh is found to be less progressive as most community-based organizations are reported to be inactive.

Besides, a lack of sense of belonging to development programs, increasing community dependency on outsiders’ help and the absence of community perceived development have contributed to the underdevelopment, resulting in human insecurity in rural Bangladesh.

The population of rural Bangladesh faces critical issues of social, economic and environmental sustainability such as a significant decrease in water supply caused by a significant loss of water resources (springs), recurrent natural disasters and the probable impact of climate change. These issues lead to significant threats to agricultural and community livelihood.

Political security of the rural community is truly reflected only when they have access to the decision-making process of local government with freedom of choice for the selection of their representatives to the Union Parishad.

The local government of Bangladesh gives rural people opportunities to taste freedom and participation. In 2015, there was a paradigm shift in the local government system when the Cabinet decided to hold local polls on a partisan basis.

By changing the century-old practice of non-party poll at the local body level to the first-ever partisan poll, there are new challenges for political parties of Bangladesh.

There are two schools of thought on this issue. According to the conservative school of thought, though it is a little too early to settle on the party-based electoral system of Union Parishad, the development around the ongoing Union Parishad elections is sending a wrong message.

The volume of violence, the complaints related to nominations as well as corruption in the electoral system has been terrible.

The formal justice system in Bangladesh is under tremendous pressure with much workload and an inadequate number of officials and staff members to dispose of the cases.

As the Union Parishad elections were held on a non-partisan basis in the past, many neutral and locally-popular people had the opportunities to be elected.

This time, however, such people did not come forward in many cases. Moreover, corruption in the nomination process has turned out to be a real shame. Dedicated and honest politicians are also in the race of courting favors from the influential ones.

The wisdom behind the party-based model of Union Parishad elections is thus being questioned. According to the liberal school of thought, it has opened up an opportunity for the local people to be mindful about selecting their local leaders as well as engaging in the development process at the grassroots level.

Such a party-based local government election enables elected representatives to get the maximum benefit from the political government.

In general, the right to the security of one person is associated with liberty and includes the right, if one is imprisoned unlawfully, to the remedy of habeas corpus. Security of the person can also be seen as an expansion of rights based on prohibitions of torture and cruel and unusual punishment.

The formal justice system in Bangladesh is under tremendous pressure with much workload and an inadequate number of officials and staff members to dispose of the cases.

As a result, the case backlogs add up to the existing pending cases and at present, it stands at about half a million cases.

Village court under the Union Parishad, the lowest tier of the local government in Bangladesh, has been the alternative and reachable podium for the justice seeker in rural Bangladesh.

The Village Courts Act of 2006, which replaced and updated the Village Courts Act of 1976, provides for the establishment of a village court in every Union Parishad. A related criticism of the village court is that it has little appreciation of rule of law and serves as an enforcer of often retrogressive norms.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country and disaster vulnerability possesses a threat to human security. Human security is at risk as disaster renders the community without food or shelter, impoverished, diseased, and displaced. It is apparent that the national disaster management institutional structure recognizes the importance of the institutional presence up to the local level for comprehensive disaster management.

Union Parishad Disaster Management Committee, an ideal platform at the heart of community people, has underperformed on account of incompetence of local elected representatives.

In the context of rural Bangladesh, environmental degradation is a particular case of consumption or production externalities reflected by the divergence between private and social costs (or benefits). Union Parishad over the years has been confronted with numerous problems, which upshots poor management of environmental security in rural Bangladesh.

The government of Bangladesh is striving hard to ensure access to its rural population to basic health care and health services by the way of setting up a primary health care center. The role of NGOs, particularly BRAC, in promoting primary health services for mothers and children is notable.

One of its responsibilities involves providing health security to the rural population, which is a challenging task given that only 30 percent of Bangladeshis live in cities and there are limited infrastructure and a lack of health professionals in rural areas.

The food security situation in rural Bangladesh over the years has somewhat improved and further improvements on access and utilization, to be sustainable and large-scale, need renewed efforts from the government, civil society organizations and the development partners. Issues of governance and accountability further thwart attempts to provide targeted safety nets and price stabilization.

Community policing is an aiding vehicle that complements human security by the way of building peace and ensuring safety and stability in the rural society of Bangladesh.

It is a collaborative effort between the police and the community that identifies problems of crime and disorder and involves all elements of the community in the search for solutions to these problems.

Most communities, particularly those located in rural areas, still have reservations about working with police resulting in decreasing community policing.

Union Parishad is supposed to play a significant role in ensuring human security for the people living in rural Bangladesh, but corruption, poor governance and lack of accountability are the common scenarios in social safety net programs like Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), Old-age Allowance, Widow Allowance, and Disability Allowance.

How the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens human security in rural Bangladesh?

In my opinion, the pandemic has shown us the importance of being prepared collectively when crises hit. Only such an approach can deliver win-win policies for people, the planet, and prosperity.

This pandemic also provides us with the opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the sustainability of our environmental, economic, and social systems to create more resilient societies emphasizing the proper implementation of SDGs.

The SDGs emphasize the need for an inclusive and localized approach where the promise to leave no one behind is embedded at the heart of the local government.

Achieving SDGs requires contextualizing development priorities and programming while local government is the best fit for implementing policies and programs for improved service delivery that can address poverty, reduce inequality, climate vulnerability, promote gender equity.

Participatory grassroots local government is indispensable for delivering on SDGs, particularly in poor and marginalized areas of Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, it is far from being a reality in most of the developing countries. For example, best practices recognized by the international community—like standing committees, project implementation committees, grassroots political participation, or open budget discussions—are not widely employed in local governments.

Moreover, the COVID pandemic has certainly intensified the vulnerabilities of local government bodies to deliver the best in attaining SDGs.

The statistical evidence suggests that an additional 10 million of the world’s children could face acute malnutrition in light of Covid-19, and the number of people facing acute food insecurity may almost double relative to 2019, rising to 265 million. School closures have affected over 90 percent of the world’s student population—1.6 billion children and youth.

Decisions taken now on whether to return to the pre-pandemic world or build towards on that is more sustainable and equitable will help shape future outcomes. If coronavirus responses are ad-hoc, underfunded and without a view to long-term goals, decades of progress toward sustainable development stand to be reversed.

How does the government plan for expanding the synergy between human security and sustainable development goals in rural Bangladesh?

Inherently, people desire peace, human rights, prosperity, and social equity but delivering on these in the face of today’s complex challenges is beyond the scope and capacity of any single institution or actor.

It requires partnerships among a broad range of stakeholders under a comprehensive development framework such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Calling for a “spirit of strengthened global solidarity”, the 2030 Agenda underscores the fundamental importance of working collaboratively across stakeholders to address the multidimensional challenges encountered by people, in particular those who are most vulnerable and at-risk.

The evolving crisis has been characterized by politicians, scholars, and media organizations as the most perilous threat to human progress, peace, prosperity and stability since the Second World War.

The crisis enables us to rethink uplifting human security in the lives of the people and not in the weapons that states have.

Simply speaking, the human security approach recognizes the need to transcend fragmented responses in favor of people-centered, comprehensive, context-specific, and prevention-oriented solutions with no one left behind.

As a multidimensional analytical framework, it strengthens the interlinkages between peace, development, and human rights, and stimulates meaningful partnerships among United Nations entities, governments, civil society, the private sector and local communities to accelerate delivery, limit duplication and maximize the reach of scarce resources.

Applying the human security approach allows for a stronger integrated response that forges alliances to address current and emerging challenges with greater effectiveness together than alone.

Bangladesh Planning Commission’s General Economics Division (GED) has recently launched the country’s SDG progress report at the Planning Commission.

The report shows that under-five mortality and neonatal mortality have already reached the target set for 2020, while the prevalence of tobacco use and family planning needs are on track.

The reduction rate of poverty and hunger is also on-track. The government’s commitment to social protection, enhancing both in budgetary allocation and in coverage, is evident and gender parity in primary and secondary education has been achieved.

The growth rate of real GDP per employed person and share of manufacturing value-added in GDP has crossed the target set for 2020. Again, the “pandemic pause” is a blessing in disguise. It gives all the stakeholders a chance to undertake a thorough review of where we stand as well as what needs to change for attaining SDGs.

Honestly speaking, recovery is a complex and non-linear process. The pandemic has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system. It has shown how the prevalence of poverty, weak health systems, subpar education, and a lack of global cooperation exacerbate a health crisis.

In our effort to return to normalcy, we must not lose sight of the lessons gained from the pandemic.

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, people-centered development is the core of discourse as this approach appeared in the cutting edge of international development discourse focusing on self-belief, self-reliance, and community living with the spirit of togetherness, social justice, and participatory decision-making.

The government of Bangladesh is working hard to align its new course of action with the cutting edge of contemporary development discourse for regaining confidence in the implementation of SDGs amid the COVID pandemic.

What are the best solutions to human insecurity as perceived by the rural people of Bangladesh amid the pandemic?

As COVID-19 upends lives and livelihoods across the country, governments must stress a range of multilateral solutions to ease the pain, while also getting back on track towards achieving SDGs.

If the 2030 global agenda is implemented at the local level on the basis of partnership with people of all segments of society, a massive socio-economic, environmental and ecological development will occur and the targets of SDGs will then be easily achieved. SDGs localization plan would be a quick-yielding remedy to counteract the Covid-19 fallout both in the medium and long term.

A clear institutional framework with reinforced management and planning capacities, participatory mechanisms and regular financial negotiations between all levels of government and local communities in the developing countries is crucial to define priorities within SDGs and plan of action accordingly.

The government of the developing countries including Bangladesh must strive to foster dialogue with all stakeholders mobilizing a multi-level stakeholder, which can accelerate the collective efforts while setting enabling national frameworks that empower local actors to develop and lead their strategies aligned with the SDGs.

Past progress in promoting decent work (SDG 8), increasing access to quality health care (SDG 3), and ensuring internet access for school and work (SDG 9) help mitigate the severity of adverse impacts.

To defend against the worst effects of COVID-19, developing countries should prioritize action in three areas for reviving their efforts to attain SDGs: protecting progress already made towards the SDGs; accelerating the universal provision of quality basic services; and maintaining the environmental gains of this period.

In order to enforce the above-suggested action in three areas, strengthening local government in developing countries is perhaps the only viable solution by which the national government can translate policies into inclusive development and prosperity.

The government of the developing countries including Bangladesh must strive to foster dialogue with all stakeholders mobilizing a multi-level stakeholder, which can accelerate the collective efforts while setting enabling national frameworks that empower local actors to develop and lead their strategies aligned with the SDGs.

The expansion of human security depends on sustainable development. The gap between poverty and the rich must be diminished. Creating equalities and social justice can contribute to reducing the conflicts between urban and rural areas.

Last but not least, a strong local government with adequate resources, a delegation of authorities and a positive mindset of the political leaders in the developing countries severely affected by the COVID pandemic is a must for localization of SDGs and improved governance at the grassroots level.

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