Perspectives on Human Security


This Saturday afternoon and evening I attended a joyous wedding ceremony of a member of my wife's family. Bride and groom were splendid, the planning impressive, the atmosphere congenial and properly festive. Given that the bride and groom come from different backgrounds - countries, cultures and language - attention was given to the smallest detail to include both sides. A truly cosmopolitan celebration right up to translation of the priest's sermon that showed the marvelous international character of Geneva at its best.

At the end of the ceremony, the priest announced that a collection would be taken at the exit of the church. Rather than mentioning the church or some local charity, he indicated that the couple wished those in attendance to contribute funds to specific friends of theirs who had been left homeless by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The bride, you see, is Japanese and lives in Okinawa. In fact, the couple and the bride's family were preparing to return to Japan soon after the wedding.

I mention this personal item because with the recent rash of events in the Arab spring and Ivory Coast, it is easy to lose track of the catastrophic events in Japan, if not the continuing misery resulting from the global financial crisis. 24 hour news cycles push for spectacular headlines. Today's front page is often forgotten tomorrow, or pushed to the back of the news. Do we remember the devastating floods in Pakistan and the millions displaced? Can we follow what has happened in Haiti after the earthquake?

These questions of memory are not meant to overwhelm, although for those in the humanitarian field such as the ICRC, Swiss Development Office or NGO's these are certainly trying days. No, what I would like to emphasize is that discussions such as those about the validity of intervention in Libya often miss the main and basic point of human security. The point of the intervention is to protect civilian lives.  During the Cold War, much attention was given to defense, by individual countries or blocs like NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Recently, more thought has been given to human security, including shelter, food, and health. This is not to say that violence is not often the cause of insecurity, but to point to basic needs that are often missing for most of the world's population.

The earthquake, tsunami and radioactivity in Japan are extraordinary reminders of how precarious life can be. We can hardly imagine the suffering of those affected or the fears of those living in the ever expanding zones of danger. We can and should, obviously, be thankful for our very privileged situation in Switzerland. The review of the nuclear power plants here is long overdue, as is a thorough examination of what would happen, for example, if the dams burst in Valais. Security demands vigilance and sacrifice; it does not come cheaply and is often overlooked by politicians looking to cut costs. "What if?" is not a popular question.

The bride and groom were radiant. May their optimism and that of her family be lessons for us all. The people of Japan have succeeded before. But somehow, beyond today's headlines about the Swiss-Bulgaria football match, there are realities of people's                           daily lives that should not be pushed off the front pages or our minds.

March 27, 2011




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