As rich na­tions turn their backs

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

Tgen­er­a­tions, HE world is wit­ness­ing the largest ex­o­dus of refugees in

spawned by armed con­flicts in the Mid­dle East, North Africa and South Asia. But “wit­ness­ing” is per­haps the wrong word. Many world lead­ers, in­clud­ing those who run most of the rich­est coun­tries, are choos­ing to look the other way. They are more in­ter­ested in bar­ri­cad­ing their na­tions from the fall­out of conflict than in in­vest­ing in peace­keep­ing and sta­bil­ity. This wil­ful ne­glect was on dis­play last week at the in­au­gu­ral World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit, con­vened to face the needs of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. Most heads of state from the rich­est na­tions — in­clud­ing the United States — didn’t bother to show up, draw­ing a re­buke from the United Na­tions sec­re­tary gen­eral, Ban Ki­moon. “It’s dis­ap­point­ing that some world lead­ers could not be here, es­pe­cially from the G-7 coun­tries,” he said at a news con­fer­ence on Tues­day. “We have reached a level of hu­man suf­fer­ing with­out par­al­lel since the found­ing of the United Na­tions” 70 years ago.

Even if some of the wars can be brought to an end, it will take decades and bil­lions of dol­lars to mean­ing­fully ad­dress their ram­i­fi­ca­tions. The chal­lenge of do­ing so will be com­pounded by the ex­pand­ing needs of peo­ple dis­placed by cli­mate change and natural dis­as­ters. “To­day, we do not yet have a func­tion­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid sys­tem,” Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel of Ger­many, the only head of state of a mem­ber of the Group of 7 na­tions to at­tend, said at the con­fer­ence, which was held in Is­tan­bul. “Very of­ten pledges are made, but the money does not reach where it is most needed.” The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity spends roughly $25 bil­lion a year on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, which seems a lot but in fact is $15 bil­lion less than re­lief agen­cies need to do the job prop­erly.

Among the agen­cies most in need of re­pair and re­ju­ve­na­tion is the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, which ad­min­is­ters the refugee re­set­tle­ment process and has been un­der-fi­nanced for years. This has forced mil­lions of refugees to put their fates in the hands of un­scrupu­lous smug­glers and set out on per­ilous jour­neys in search of a new start. Ac­cord­ing to the agency, there are more than 59.5 mil­lion forcibly dis­placed peo­ple, in­clud­ing roughly 19.5 mil­lion refugees. Med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als con­tinue to per­form heroic work in war zones, even as they have come un­der at­tack rou­tinely, some­times de­lib­er­ately. Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, which runs battlefield hos­pi­tals, boy­cotted the sum­mit meet­ing, call­ing it a “figleaf of good in­ten­tions.” Hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, in­clud­ing food and ba­sic medicine, of­ten reaches be­sieged com­mu­ni­ties too late, if at all. That means that peo­ple are dy­ing daily from mal­nu­tri­tion and a lack of ba­sic health care.

Even in parts of the world that are com­par­a­tively sta­ble, there is wide­spread dis­re­gard for the in­sti­tu­tions that in­ves­ti­gate hu­man rights abuses. The In­ter-Amer­i­can Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, which in­ves­ti­gates abuses in Latin Amer­ica, an­nounced last week that it would soon have to lay off half of its staff as a re­sult of chronic budget short­ages. The meet­ing’s or­ga­niz­ers is­sued a se­ries of ob­jec­tives on Tues­day at the end of the two-day event. They called on lead­ers to do more to pre­vent war, up­hold hu­man rights norms and dis­trib­ute the bur­den of re­set­tling refugees more eq­ui­tably. These are all sen­si­ble as­pi­ra­tions, but un­less world lead­ers make bind­ing com­mit­ments to carry them out they’re un­likely to be met. It may be po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent to pro­pose for­ti­fy­ing bar­ri­ers and tight­en­ing im­mi­gra­tion con­trols in an ef­fort to keep the tide of suf­fer­ing and de­spair at bay. But do­ing so will only raise the longterm cost of deal­ing with crises that are metas­ta­sis­ing each year. — The New York Times

If one is too lazy to think, too vain to do a thing badly, too cow­ardly to ad­mit it, one will never at­tain wis­dom.

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