Conventional versus Human Security: How Climate Risks Decrease Stability

4 Sep

Reported by: Jon Ehrenfeld, Senior Writer

Edited by: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall, Deputy Director, PISA

A spate of summer natural disasters is keeping the link between climate-related events and human security front-page news across the globe. The catastrophic flooding in northern Pakistan that has killed, displaced, or otherwise affected a staggering 17 million people is only the most recent disaster in a season of climate-linked events. It follows hard on the heels of massive wildfires in Russia and devastating landslides in China’s Gansu province that have killed at least 1,239 people. Last week flooding in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province displaced villagers, shut down schools and municipal services and heavy rain threatened to shutdown Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

A Pakistani Man Is Rescued From Flooding by a Rescue Helicopter

Even as President Obama delivers a highly-publicized address on peace and security in Iraq, the widespread devastation wrought by fire, oil and water this summer raises a crucial question: has human security been too long eclipsed by conventional security concerns? A close look at the numbers reveals the disconnect between the soaring sums allocated to conventional security and the comparatively paltry amounts earmarked for human or environmental security. This year alone, Pakistan’s defense budget will rise 17%, to $5.2 billion USD. Pakistan is beset by a multitude of conventional security threats such as the persistent Taliban insurgency. In terms of sheer devastation and societal harm, one week of flooding has far surpassed anything the Taliban could accomplish. While the U.S. is the lead donor in the flood relief effort, the need for a longer-term commitment to human development remains.  So why isn’t the money there?

Pakistan is by no means alone in this dilemma. Much of the developing world – and particularly South and Southeast Asia – is highly vulnerable to climate related or mitigated disasters.

Without neglecting the very real challenges posed by insurgency, civil war, or external invasion, the time has come to begin shifting resources toward human and environmental security.


The Aftermath of a U.S. Drone Attack in Pakistan

Hearts and minds are not won with weaponry but instead with true security:  access to clean drinking water, arable land, sufficient public health infrastructure, and the possibility of a stable, conflict-free environment.  As the chief architect of the Marshall Plan, US policy-makers learned long ago that military support and police training should not be the legacy of war and do not lead to successful post-conflict reconstruction.  Instead, an unwavering commitment to building the requisite infrastructure for economic development and political stability is of paramount importance.  Pakistan’s frailty as a state together with a colonial legacy that left in place irrigation systems from the turn of the century combined with a near-feudal land management system, created the circumstances in which a climate-related event was transformed into a catastrophe.

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