A real option: Grass roots human security

JAKARTA (JP): If human security is the ability to live, to move and to work in satisfying, safe ways then the human security of a majority of Indonesian citizens is falling.

The reasons are all too obvious. The country is threatened by breakdown and break-up, and the international community is increasingly unwilling to support the situation.

The government is in disarray. Almost everyone is fighting for or against a President whose legitimacy and credibility have been hammered by alleged scandal, national embarrassments, quirky leadership and a retreat from reforms.

The major institutions are at best unequal to the tasks current realities have set them, and at worst violently opposed to anything that could reduce what they achieved under Soeharto. Some regions are aflame with civil and religious strife. Fleeing victims infect others.

The emerging devolution of financial and administrative powers from Jakarta to more than 360 regencies is a perverse combination of good intentions and bad timing. The struggling and unstable center can ill- afford to give anything away.

And the wildly differently endowed and capable districts are unlikely to use what they receive in ways that foster unity for the nation, or efficiency for local human security.

Indonesia’s problems will take years to solve.

But some 200 million-plus people need and want more human security now. Those at the top are consumed by the problems at the center and impressions abroad.

Therefore, those at the bottom are going to have to make the first moves.

This is not bad news. Human security is primarily an individual’s challenge. Although technology has made it everyone’s shared and common issue, it is best measured at the level of the individual. Therefore, where better to protect and build it than at the grass roots.

In the literature on human security, much is made of the need for process — such as good governance, and knowledge — from improved education. But too little is made of the fact is that all human security rests on physical foundations. The recent massive earthquake in India makes the point.

Human security of millions in the world’s most populous democracy was severely disrupted, and for tens of thousands estroyed, by physical force.

Asia has not only its share of armed conflicts, but is the region where a variety of natural disasters happen with the greatest frequency. Weekly, reports tell of another earthquake, typhoon, tidal wave, volcano, flood, landslide, structural collapse or pestilence. Not infrequently, crises combine, or follow one another in short order.

What use the college degree, trade qualification, good governance or a planning and budgeting system if, every time a conflict, natural disaster, ecological hazard, or industrial accident occurs, the home, market, school, court house, clinic or factory become inaccessible or unusable because of damage or destruction.

Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and weak, military and civilian in both developed and undeveloped countries are threatened if the physical foundations of human security are weak. Rich or powerful people not only have more to lose but also relatively less with which to defend against the loss.

How do the largest number of men, women and children help themselves live, move and work better in the face of the inevitable clashes with nature, bad people and fate? A key step is convincing them to engage in a self-help life-style that is for their own benefit.

Engaging in human security is an investment in one’s quality of life, with immediate returns. Appropriate human security at the grass roots must have its priorities and processes determined there.

Needs can be as varied as a barrier to stop vehicle entry, a structure to protect stored water, a wall to stem the annual flood of a river, or reinforcement of road or track to the clinic or court.

People confident they will be alive with dignity well beyond tomorrow are easily motivated for community activities that strengthen human security.

A community with strong and sustainable human security is unlikely to be a threat to the security of neighboring ones, and is an example of what can be achieved.

Methods to protect and promote physical human security have been practiced for centuries. Advances in technology mean that each individual can now make a greater contribution faster.

The costs? Minor. They can be a tiny fraction of what is spent each year on armaments in countries that suffer the worst disasters.

They will be far less than what was needed — but so often not committed — for recovery after past crises. And for each man, woman or child who in the past tried to fill 50 sandbags, it is less than US$50 for a tool that gives a stronger result in a fraction of the time.

Indonesia needs some good news that millions of citizens can see, feel part of and benefit from. It is not a pipe dream to claim that tens of millions of Indonesians could be prepared and equipped to significantly improve their human security, and do so in months, and for less than went adrift in the Bank Bali affair.

The writer is an executive of Maccaferri Asia, the Asian division of an Italian-based corporation that produces and guides use of goods used for stabilizing ground and slopes and to prevent or mitigate the effects of flooding and other natural disasters.