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Peace and Human Security in South Asia: Challenges and Solutions

When it comes to security, South Asian governments take a traditional view – focusing on securing national boundaries and amassing military power. The region currently spends more than US$22 billion a year on the military. But Irfan Mufti writes that while elites in the corridors of power celebrate missile tests and military hardware purchases, little serious thought seems to be given to human development.

Providing security to citizens is a primary duty of the state. There is a paradigm shift in the understanding of security, though, one which South Asia's governments have unfortunately so far largely failed to grasp. A state’s security is not complete without incorporating the concerns of individuals.

The region's governments spend US$22.5 billion annually on military expenses. But increasing numbers of South Asians are suffering from hunger, illiteracy and preventable diseases.

The human opportunity cost of military build-ups is clear. Half the annual military expenditure of South Asia could provide primary school education to 210 million children for one year, safe drinking water for two years to about 280 million people and essential medicines for two years to 145 million people who have currently no access to any health facility.

Children who embody the future are in a far worse condition. We are witnessing a massacre of the innocents. The fact that South Asian governments are directing increasing resources to the production of weapons of mass destruction, raises the issue of governance.

Economic deprivation also has important implications for the quality of South Asia's `human capital’ and future growth:

  • the incidence of malnourishment among children is much greater in South Asian countries than the incidence of poverty amongst the general population (53 % vs. 35 %)
  • the percentage of South Asian children who quit school before grade 5 is much higher than in developing countries (41% vs. 31%)
  • a large percentage of South Asians are deprived of basic services like access to safe drinking water, healthcare and sanitation.

There are seven basic components to human security, according to the United National Development Programme: economic security, food security, health security, environment security, personal security, community security and political security. And unfortunately South Asia fares poorly in every category.

No South Asian country -- except Sri Lanka (#92) – even ranks in the top hundred countries in the UNDP's Human Development Index. Not even once, has it come to public notice that governments in South Asia are ashamed of their position in this index and that steps are being taken to address it. Human life is less valuable in these nations; improvement needs to start from the top.

South Asian leaders must accept the value of human security. They need to make it a priority on government agendas and divert spending from strategic affairs to the social sector. The sooner that governments realise the worth of human security, the better for everyone.

Assessing Human Development and Post-2015 Priorities

As we assess the state of the region's human development, it's important to recognise that significant disparities exist across the region and within countries. Consider the following:

  • Under-five mortality is off track in all countries in the region except for Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives
  • Every country in the region, except Sri Lanka, is seriously off-track on maternal mortality
  • Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have made rapid progress on primary education and gender equality.
  • The MDG goal to halt the spread of major communicable diseases appears to be within the reach of most countries, with only Afghanistan and Pakistan off track.

In addition to recurrent natural and man-made disasters and adverse initial conditions, the central challenges faced in speeding up achievement of the Millennium Development Goals are:

i.Low job-creation (despite high output growth). Plus, most workers are in vulnerable jobs.

ii.Poor delivery quality of health, education and infrastructure services, especially to lower income groups.

iii.Little fiscal space – particularly in the wake of the global economic crisis and inadequate budgets - to scale up programs that address the MDGs.

As we move towards a Post-2015 development agenda, South Asia's regional priority shall be to sustain rapid economic growth, while providing a greater focus on inclusion. While governments may have policy differences, each country needs to focus on

  • scaling-up successful projects in health, education, water and sanitation
  • stimulating private investment by connecting people to markets, promoting competition, simplifying business regulations and expanding the provision of physical infrastructure.

For the first time, all countries in the region have democratically-elected governments. An expansion of accountability needs to follow as governments manage national resources, focus on delivering results to people and foster conditions for sustained inclusive growth.

Irfan Mufti is the Deputy Director of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAPPK) and GCAP's former Global Campaign Manager. This article is based on a policy paper that you can read here.

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of South Asia Partnership Pakistan