The issues related to human security gained prominence in developed states while the concept remains elusive in developing states where national security in narrowly defined parameters dominates the security debate within the state, and human security becomes a neglected subject. Earlier, human security was considered limited to violent threats to individuals and communities but, in the post-Cold War era, the United Nations Development Programme in its Human Development Report of 1994 defined human security in broader terms, which incorporates everything from fear of hunger to fear of violence. Human security basically deals with the fundamental rights of individuals and to ensure these rights has been the responsibility of the state.
The human tragedy in Tharparkar has given rise to a new debate regarding human security issues, which have remained ignored so far and have not been discussed on a wider scale. It is said that the current drought is part of a well-known cycle that hits the region periodically but this time it has been severer than ever before. The cold spell has been long and intense, resulting in the deaths of starving children who were unable to access food and medical facilities.
Tharparkar is one of the districts in Pakistan having the lowest development indicators. One important reason for such a gloomy scenario might be the low allocation of budget for developmental projects but it cannot be the only reason. Apart from allocation of resources, the deaths of over 100 children due to malnutrition and disease has raised serious concerns regarding governance issues, mismanagement and food insecurity (very much part of governance).
It is reported that, according to the National Nutrition Survey 2011, Thar was among the most food-insecure regions. This revelation should have initiated a sustainable policy formulation process that could have dealt with the issue on an emergency basis to avoid such a catastrophe. While commenting on the situation in Thar, the representatives of the Sindh chapter of the National Humanitarian Network said in a press conference that famine and drought conditions in Thar are less a natural phenomenon and more a result of bad governance, as there was tons of wheat lying in government warehouses in Thar that could not be distributed to people who remained deprived and starving children died of hunger. The death toll still continues to rise due to malnutrition, diarrhoea, pneumonia and lack of timely treatment.
There is a common perception that food security is the availability of food, which relates to agricultural production. Food security does not just deal with availability of food but also accessibility and affordability. Though the ministry of National Food Security and Research has formulated an agricultural and food security policy to ensure the access of food to the people, the implementation of such policies demands greater collaboration between provincial and federal governments. As per the 18th amendment, agricultural production and rural development is a provincial subject while people’s access to food at affordable prices throughout the country is the responsibility of the federal government.
After this calamity, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Sindh government jointly launched Rs 600 million worth of projects to assist children and women suffering from malnutrition. According to the government survey, food insecurity and the prevalence of under-nutrition in Sindh was higher when compared to other provinces but it is ironic that even after the National Nutrition Survey’s report in 2011 about food insecurity in rural Sindh, no one ever talked about this issue and its severe implications for the people.
On a short-term basis, the government has to take immediate measures to ensure the transparency of relief operations such as distribution of food items, providing medical facilities and establishing information cells to provide data to other donor agencies. Though the prime minister has announced a one billion rupees relief package, there is a need to tackle the underlying issues on a long-term basis. It is the duty of the state to ensure the people’s right to life as guaranteed under Article 9 of the constitution, which includes the right to food and a right to be free from starvation and severe malnutrition. It is time that we adopt people-centric approaches to ensure human security, which is an important component of national security.
The article was carried by Daily Times on March 14, 2014. The views expressed in the article belongs to the author and do not reflect the policy of the Institute.