Global Pandemic: Negotiating the Challenges to Human Security

Dr. Nachiketa Singh
April 12, 2020


The global community today is faced with a severe challenge of an unprecedented health emergency in the wake of COVID-19, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Transcending the boundaries of nation-states, this rapidly spreading virus has endangered the lives of millions of people cutting across several continents. It is a grim reminder of how the global community can be rendered helpless despite tall claims of medical sciences and strong nation-states with all their economic might to face any untoward challenge to the human race. The unimaginable scale, to which this global pandemic has reached today to threaten human lives, is a testimony for the international community to introspect and act now. This major threat to public health has a multi-dimensional impact, which will have far-reaching consequences for the global economy and, most importantly, for human security at large. There is an urgent need, therefore, to revisit and do course corrections as far as the present form of the global economy is concerned, which is primarily dictated by the imperatives of globalization and dominance of hegemonic powers.

The spread of COVID -19 is a manifestation of the perils of globalization, which has threatened human security beyond nation-states’ comprehension. No amount of military preparedness or defense capability is going to be enough to tackle this global pandemic. So the debate shifts from national security to human security, and the necessity to deliberate on how human security has been compromised within the era of globalization. The integration of global economies through interconnected markets and fast movement of goods and services, facilitated by technologically driven means of communication and transportation, has today resulted in the creation of a global village that is now more susceptible to nonconventional security threats like COVID-19. The Novel Corona Virus, which originated in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China, caused a widespread outbreak in Italy, situated in a distant continent. Italy has strong textile industry-trade relations with China, especially with Wuhan from where large numbers of Chinese workers have migrated to work in the textile industries located in Italy. Northern Italy has a substantial Chinese immigrant population, many of whom had traveled to Italy from Wuhan recently and became unsuspecting carriers of the deadly virus.

In this era of globalization, individuals and communities, transcending national boundaries, are interacting and engaging more with each other as global citizens and stakeholders. This has been the result of increased interconnectedness of the global economy, unified supply chains, and global manufacturing hubs being created to facilitate production and smooth flow of goods and services across the globe. People migrate or travel across continents due to different reasons mostly prompted by economic interests such as business, healthcare, entertainment, education, tourism, cultural exchanges, sporting events, and also official multilateral engagements by nation-states themselves. This process facilitates massive human to human contact that can have an adverse impact on public health, as it happened in case of the spread of Covid-19. The proliferation and expansion of the global aviation industry has made this unprecedented human migration and movement possible in the last thirty years.

Health Security is one of the critical aspects of Human Security, which means guaranteeing minimum protection from diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. According to critics, contemporary globalization has resulted in rampant misuse of global resources leading to environmental degradation caused by mindless economic activities unleashed by the market forces. This has created the impression that unless the global community urgently mitigates the discontent of globalization, the human race will soon be pushed to the brink of near extinction. However, nation-states cannot fight these unprecedented challenges alone, for the sheer economic cost involved and scientific knowledge required to address such challenges. The global community needs to devise a multi-pronged strategy at multilateral levels to work in coordination and cooperation with each other. There has to be a balanced approach to multilateral cooperation, where both developed and underdeveloped countries should get equal access to technology, collectively make use of innovation, knowledge, and share information with each other. Today, it is observed that most of the underdeveloped countries are faced with a severe shortage of health care facilities, medical equipment, life-saving medicines, and above all, trained healthcare providers. This skewed distribution of the capabilities and resources jeopardizes the interest of the poor underdeveloped countries and severely impact human security in those countries, particularly during global pandemics and resultant economic crises like the present one.

Today, human civilization is fraught with the dangers of more such pandemics like the recent Covid-19 and many other forms of natural or man-made disasters. The global community needs to bring about a transformational change in the existing imperatives and approaches to economic development and address the concerns of human security and thereby find a balance between the two. Market forces need to be reined in, and sustainability should be given priority over profitability. Masses need to be sensitized to the impending dangers of climate change, global warming, ecological crises, and environmental degradation, which are going to be significant sources of threat to human existence. We have to accept the fact that the natural habitat we are living, is also the natural habitat of other living beings to coexist, and therefore that space needs to be shared with them as well. Alongside this realization on the part of the global civil society, there needs to be also a paradigm shift from the ‘Realist’ approach to international politics and the ‘Neo-liberal’ approach to the international economy to a more humane and rational approach to the policy framework. The nation-states need to recast their foreign-economic policies in line with the needs of human security. There has to be synergy between policy priorities of the nation-states and the need for human security, which includes economic security, food security, health security, energy security, environmental security, personal security, community security so on and so forth. In other words, the focus should shift from National Security to Human Security. For this, there has to be a renewed emphasis on sustainable development, which will guarantee growth with distributive justice and equity for all. Policymakers and global decision-makers, including transnational bodies and international organizations, should immediately take cognizance of the impending dangers to human security today and create a global consensus to face these challenges collectively.

Every crisis brings along both challenges and prospects to resolve and learn a few lessons for the future. The Novel Corona Virus and its rapid proliferation across the globe taught humanity a few lessons. First and foremost, it is realized that no national boundary can prevent the penetration of such deadly viruses into the geopolitical space of another country. No country today is self-sufficient to fight this global pandemic single-handedly. The economic cost of industrial shut down and overall lockdown of cities and towns due to the ongoing novel coronavirus scare and social distancing would cost the international economy very dearly. There would be large-scale economic dislocations, joblessness, and uncertainties leading to reverse migration from cities to villages. This trend is already manifesting, as the sharp declines in industrial production at global manufacturing hubs in China and other developed countries are being reported regularly.

Under these circumstances, nation-states need to focus on micromanagement of public health through the standard international protocol to stop the spread of this pandemic at the national and local levels, which includes putting in place robust healthcare facilities with trained medical professionals and caregivers, making them ready to tackle any unwarranted situation arising out of a sudden explosion in the number of infected cases. Both the government and the people at large need to boost the morale of these healthcare givers and other such agencies and workers who are part of essential services and therefore cannot be spared from delivering their duties, such as security personnel, people working in the transport and aviation sectors and public sanitation workers. Testing facilities, quarantine centers, and regular health bulletins and advisories must be provided to the people, and essential goods and services need to be available uninterrupted in order to avoid chaos and panic hoarding. On the other hand, the nation-states need to engage with each other at the international as well as regional levels to fight the menace of the corona virus. Multilateral cooperation and collaborative actions, including research and production of vaccines and drugs for treating the symptoms and spread of the virus is required on a war footing. This is the time when the global community also needs to review and revamp the functioning of international organizations like the WHO.

*** The author is an Associate Professor at SGTB Khalsa College of University of Delhi, India ***