Human Insecurity: Climate, Health, and COVID-19 in Rural South Asia

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South Asia has been advocating for human security, actively promoting it by utilising the multi-stakeholder’s approach. Rural community development in South Asia has led not only to socioeconomic improvement but has had implications for social, economic and environmental systems. However, rural development is found to be less progressive as most community-based organisations are reported to be inactive. The increasing community dependency on outsiders’ help and the absence of community perceived development has contributed to the underdevelopment of rural South Asia, resulting in human insecurity and a lack of sense of belonging to development programmes. 

Rural South Asia and Current Human Insecurity

Health: The governments of South Asia are striving hard to ensure access of its rural populations to basic health care and health services by the way of setting up primary health care centres. The role of NGOs 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 per cent of South Asia live in cities and there is limited infrastructure and a lack of health professionals in rural areas.  

Justice: The formal justice system in South Asia is under tremendous pressure with much workload and an inadequate number of officials and staff members to solve the cases. A related criticism of the informal justice system is that it has little appreciation of the rule of law and serves as an enforcer of often retrogressive norms. 

Social securityThe state of social security over the years has somewhat improved. Further improvements on access and utilisation, to be sustainable and large-scale needs renewed efforts from the government, civil society organisations and development partners. Issues of governance and accountability further thwart attempts to provide targeted safety nets and price stabilisation. 

Climate: South Asia 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. 

COVID-19 and the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals

The COVID-19 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 emphasising the proper implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The SDGs emphasise the need for an inclusive and localised approach where the promise to leave no one behind is embedded at the heart of the local government. Achieving SDGs requires contextualising 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. 

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly intensified the vulnerabilities of local government bodies to deliver the best in attaining SDGs. Decisions taken now on whether to return to the pre-pandemic world or build towards one that is more sustainable and equitable will help shape future outcomes. If COVID-19 responses are ad-hoc, underfunded and without a view to long-term goals, decades of progress toward sustainable development stand to be reversed. 

The Importance of Partnerships 

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 multi-dimensional challenges encountered by people, in particular those who are most vulnerable and at-risk. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 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 governments of South Asia are working hard to align the new course of action with the cutting edge of contemporary development discourse for regaining confidence in the implementation of SDGs amid COVID pandemic

Actions to Achieve Sustainability Goals

I believe, 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. 

To defend against the worst effects of COVID-19, South Asian countries should prioritise action in three areas for reviving their efforts to attain SDGs:

  1. Protecting progress already made towards the SDGs
  2. Accelerating the universal provision of quality basic services
  3. Maintaining the environmental gains of this period

The governments of South Asia must strive to foster dialogue with all stakeholders mobilising 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. 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 localisation of SDGs and improved governance at the grassroots level.

Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam is the Visiting Scholar of the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS and an Associate Professor of the Department of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. Email: ti8@soas.ac.uk

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