Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 February 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic has made one thing clear: nothing matters more to people than security in their daily lives. The helplessness and lack of preparedness among individuals, families, communities and governments during the pandemic has underscored the need to focus on human security – an idea first introduced in the 1994 Human Development Report and later articulated in the 2003 Report of the Commission on Human Security, chaired by Sadako Ogata and Amartya Sen (UNDP, 1994; Commission on Human Security, 2003).
This chapter revisits the idea of human security by examining efforts made over the past 25 years by Asian-Pacific nations to promote human development and assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the outcomes. Despite considerable progress, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the development foundations of most countries in the region. An important lesson emerges: While promoting human development remains essential, it cannot guarantee prosperity unless it also prioritizes human security. Looking ahead, nations need to re-envision their human development strategies to prioritize building resilience and empowerment that can overcome the sense of helplessness – one that not only dominates everyday lives but becomes worse in the event of an unforeseen crisis.
THE IDEA OF HUMAN SECURITY
Human security has many dimensions: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political. Manifestations of insecurity include lacking a steady source of income, suffering from hunger, needing medical attention without the means of paying for it, living in fear of abuse and feeling persecuted for belonging to a particular race or religion. As the 1994 Human Development Report states:
In the final analysis, human security is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, a job that was not cut, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a dissident who was not silenced. Human security is not a concern with weapons-it is a concern with human life and dignity. (UNDP, 1994)
Of the many dimensions and features of human security, four have prescriptive importance and will inform the rest of the discussion. First, human security means an end to deprivations. At a minimum, this requires a guaranteed, steady source of income, freedom from hunger, good quality education and affordable healthcare, prevention of child abuse and domestic violence, and insurance of equal participation and non-discrimination.