Joel Hellman | September 11, 2015
Greatly Strengthen Emergency Capacities
As Dean Hellman showed, considerable progress has been made in the last decade and a half in reducing global poverty and in attaining the Millennial Development Goals. When the UN General Assembly opens with the Sustainable Development Summit, September 25-27, it will have significant progress to celebrate as well as new goals to formulate for the coming fifteen years.
These Sustainable Development goals may be more difficult to achieve, however, because of a combination of accelerating changes worldwide with a collapse of “the global architecture” to which Dean Hellman referred.
In a New York Times column that appeared the morning of Dean Hellman’s talk, September 9, Thomas Friedman explained that the European refugee crisis is but one of the accelerating phenomena propelling vast change in our social and political systems. The others are climate change, the geometric growth in technological power, and the globalization of markets. “This combination,” he writes, “is stressing strong countries and blowing up weak ones.”
Friedman quotes Michael Mandelbaum in his forthcoming book Mission Failure. “Nothing in our experience has prepared us for what is going on now: the meltdown of an increasing number of states all at the same time in a globalized world.”
The acceleration of change comes at a time when our global institutions are badly strained and in disrepair. Whether in Europe and on the Mediterranean, on the U.S.-Mexican border or in Australasia, the inherited machinery for migration and asylum has utterly failed.
Specialized UN agencies, like the High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Organization, have grown in number to bandage the wounds of a broken world, but they are woefully underfunded and only weakly empowered. Their mother body the United Nations Organization is a relic of the Post-World War II era, with the Security Council hampered by the veto of the P-5.
We need to re-build our global institutions to meet today’s problems, not just tomorrow’s challenges. A new architecture for humanitarian relief and human development will not work unless the world community establishes new structures of global governance.
Funding Humanitarian Programs. With emergencies hurtling our way, the first priority ought to be to make our emergency relief capacities robust to meet current and future crises.
National pledges to particular appeals have proved insufficient for addressing humanitarian emergencies like the exodus from Syria. The World Food Program has shut down feeding programs in refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere for lack of funds. As a result, hungry families are returning to Syria to die. Those who tried to escape to Europe are barred from entry and many are starving at the borders of the EU.
Pledging has failed as a funding mechanism. For some time, many governments have failed to meet their pledge commitments, which were seldom adequate to the need. New automatic funding devices are needed to meet the massive refugee crisis now and into the foreseeable future, until Syria and Iraq are again stable governments.
Resources are also necessary to meet environmental and climatic disasters and to build resiliency in fragile countries against further catastrophes, like the hurricane that hit Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
Nina Munk in her study of Jeffrey Sachs’s experiment with Millennial Villages, The Idealist, shows how the best development planning can be up-ended by climatic cycles, where progress in Kenyan and Ugandan villages was reversed by a cycle of drought and flooding, a reversal for which Sach’s development planners had no adequate response.
The heroes in Munk’s story are the field workers who struggle, without help from New York, in a Sisyphean effort, to save their villages from the ravages of natural disaster.
Among the possible ways to supply funding to adapt to such emergencies would be international taxes on deep-sea oil drilling and sea-bed mining operations, or an international carbon tax, to provide the necessary investment, humanitarian relief, refugee support and peacekeeping forces.
Strengthening R2P. In 2005, the world community adopted the principle of the Responsibility to Protect to prevent the growth of humanitarian catastrophes. R2P has been successful in preventing internal conflicts from spiraling out of control in several countries (See data at City University of New York’s Global Center for R2P.)
Unfortunately, the first active R2P enforcement effort employing military force in Libya in 2011 ultimately failed, and that failure became a deterrent to invoking the principle in Syria. Now, unfortunately, we see the cost of such inaction not only for an entire population but also for the international community.
Preventing humanitarian emergencies like Syria in a time when we can expect they will proliferate will require strengthening the UN’s peacekeeping capacity, including a stand-by, rapid reaction force when enforcement becomes necessary under the Responsibility to Protect.
Activating those forces, however, will require a change in legal structure, the need in some cases to override Security Council disapproval of authorization due to the veto power of the Permanent Five. It could be an override by the General Assembly after two votes or a supermajority on the Council itself.
Syria shows us the wide and prolonged costs the failure to act can exact. But, if Michael Mandelbaum and Thomas Friedman are right about “the meltdown of an increasing number of states all at the same time in a globalized world,” then an enormous effort at re-enforcing our capacities to deal with humanitarian emergencies is urgently necessary to relieve the suffering of today’s refugees and be prepared to anticipate the millions of refugees of failed states in the foreseeable future.
Unless we do so, our planning for development of fragile states will be in vain.
Drew Christiansen, S.J. is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Human Development and a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center.
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