Book review: COVID-19 Global Pandemic And Aspects of Human Security in South Asia

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Amazon Hardcover ₹ 620.00 – August 2020
New Delhi: Pentagon Press LLP, 2020, 184 pp. ISBN 978-93-90095-08-7
 Delwar Hossain (Author), Shariful Islam (Author)

Sariful Islam

The novel coronavirus, which is popularly known as COVID-19, has brought unprecedented changes in every aspect of human life. The world has been witnessing drastic changes in the economy to education to a personal relationship. What was beyond imagination has now turned into a ‘new normal.’ The South Asian region has already been facing the devastating effects of COVID-19 in a multi-faced way. It has been observed that a few countries which have robust public health systems have been performing better in fighting against coronavirus. Though South Asia has recently started to perform better in terms of economic growth and has the potential to expand more, the magnitude of poverty, inequality and injustice in the society still rampant. The public health system has yet to render basic health facilities to the people, particularly to the poor. Against this backdrop, it is imperative to map out the impact and implications of COVID-19 in the region and chart out some policy prescriptions. The book under review – COVID-19 Global Pandemic and Aspects of Human Security in South Asia authored by Delwar Hossain and Md. Shariful Islam– has documented the potential impacts and implications of the deadly virus in the region with a focus on human security aspects.

The concept of human security has started to take shape in the 1990s which has been defined by scholars to the United Nations (UN) officials. Centring on people, human security focuses on various aspects related to human life including reducing life-threatening insecurities, enhancing capabilities and ensuring opportunities of a safe, secure and dignified life. Not only freedom from fear but also freedom from want is the undergirding line of human security as what former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s conceptualised (p.6). Hossain and Islam precisely map out fragile human security status in South Asia as the countries of the region, particularly the major economies, obsess with traditional security. Even amid this pandemic, some South Asian states have shown an overwhelmed tendency of emphasising traditional security.

The book consists of six chapters excluding the Introduction and Conclusion. The introductory chapter briefly but articulately sets the tone of discussion for the following chapters. It conceptualizes the COVID-19 pandemic and then argues how it needs to be considered from the human security perspective. It is followed by an analytic discussion on the human security concept while the chapter ends by outlining the subsequent chapters. Chapter two to seven could be divided into two parts. The first part included chapter second to five that discusses the four key areas of human security, e.g. health security, food security, economic security, and environmental security. Each chapter lucidly delineates the core concept and portrays the state of the related area while identifying the problem in policies, and suggests the possible way out. In chapter two, the authors question the longstanding security practices in South Asia, i.e. traditional security that emphasises on military security and hence marginalizes the everyday security threats including health insecurity to the millions of poverty-stricken people in the region.  It is argued that South Asian region could address the pandemic in better and effective ways if health security in the region was prioritised. Consequently, Hossain and Islam argue that in the case of South Asia, people need to be the referent object of security in both policy and theory. Thus, it is suggested that ‘the states of the region need to invest more in the health of their people’ (p.33).

In chapter three, the authors explain the impacts of COVID-19 on food (in)security to the tens of thousands of people in South Asia. Due to the months-long lockdown measures to contain the virus, thousands of people have lost their source of income which has created acute food insecurity for them and to their family members. It is argued that ‘there were protests, fights, clashes, looting for food in South Asian countries particularly in Bangladesh and India’ (p.48). The authors show the impacts of COVID-19 on food availability, accessibility, nutrition access and food utilisation. It is suggested that prioritising agriculture, stabilising the food system and keeping trade open, strengthening the economy, promoting social safety net programmes, reinforcing regional cooperation becomes important to address the current food insecurity created from COVID-19 and to face future food insecurity in South Asia.

The impact of the pandemic on economic security is discussed in chapter four. In fact, every economy in the world including strong and weak is severely affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic. It is argued that ‘South Asia has been severely affected due to the impact of COVID-19 on different dimensions of the economy-trade, investment, aid, and technology’ (p.63). The authors discuss seven possible ways out including regional economic cooperation.

The implications of COVID-19 on the South Asian environment are explained in chapter five. It is argued that the pandemic is a blessing for the environment in many ways, including the significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In South Asia, air quality has been improved significantly which is not observed for many decades. Thus, the authors prescribe that the ‘cognitive awareness’ derived from the COVID-19 global pandemic needs to be nurtured for the betterment of all. It is also critically important to maintain a balance between corporate profits and the environment, as the authors argue.

In fact, the authors have noted the callousness as well as the inability of the South Asian states in meeting their people’s basic needs since the beginning of the pandemic. Through four dimensions of human security presented separately, the analysis would help the reader to understand an interconnection between them because the way arguments are put forward.

The second part – consists of chapter six and seven – is on health governance and cooperation through regional and inter-governmental global organisations and platforms. While chapter six maps out the challenges and possibilities of cooperation in South Asia amid COVID-19, chapter seven analyses the implication of the crisis of global health governance brought with the life-threatening super-speedy disease to the region.

Hossain and Islam’s book is a timely intervention that pushes to rethink the South Asian countries’ policies and actions in everyday life, in general, and in a crisis, in particular. This would be one of few books of its kind in and from South Asia, a region where human security is still neglected. Their convincing arguments show that the South Asian countries have common challenges and thus opportunities to cooperate. Hossain and Islam rightly argue, ‘a concerted regional effort is needed to ensure the human security of the people in the region, which requires deepening regional cooperation’ (p.177). As COVID-19 has shown it has no borders and it does not discriminate based on nationalities, a need for collective actions at the regional level is essential. This book categorically put an urge of strong regional cooperation in fighting against the severe crisis such as COVID-19 while prioritising the human security aspect.

The discussion does justice to the title of the book, particularly the term South Asia. Hossain and Islam have efficiently brought examples from South Asian countries, particularly for the discussion in chapter two to five. It has also incorporated a global context. Chapter seven is dedicated to analysing the global health governance. This chapter makes the discussion more comprehensive, and through it Hossain and Islam establish the interconnectedness of both national and regional health governance, particularly of developing regions such as South Asia to the global one.

The authors navigate their discussion in a middle-path or balanced way, in other words, they do not maintain an ideological stance of advocating a particular perspective. For instance, in one hand they criticise neo-liberalisation in the health sector, for which the majority of people cannot afford the medical facilities, on the other hand, they problematise the rise of nationalism and protectionism. While the author critical about both the profit-oriented neo-liberalisation of the health sectors and the conservative nationalism and protectionism, they urge for envisioning a world where people’s welfare would be considered rather than parochial and narrow interest. They note, ‘[P]eople’s well-being needs to be at the centre of world politics rather than the interests of the regimes’ (p.168).

Hence, this book is timely and context-relevant to South Asia. It is highly relevant for policymakers, particularly to the state bureaucrats, to rethink or reformulate the state policy centring on the security of the people as it is, the book implies, impact the state by-default. Their policy prescriptions could be read as something that is not only for addressing the particular pandemic but as for holistic and qualitative development for the people, domestic peace and stability, and regional cooperation and harmony. They invite state machinery as well as the individuals, non-state actors such as media and epistemic community, i.e. scholars and experts, to consider the policy prescriptions.

While the book maintains academic rigour, it does have some points to be raised by critics. There no reasonable explanation is provided for choosing four areas, i.e., health security, food security, economic security and environmental security, of human security as the focus of discussion while the book implicitly and explicitly informs COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of individuals. Another point might be raised that the book could have an analytic chapter that explicitly presents the linkage of human security and traditional security as COVID-19 has shown that a threat to the life of citizens poses a potential threat to the stability of states. This chapter would allow policymakers to rethink traditional security prioritisation over human security.

Nonetheless, the book can offer insights to the researchers who are working in areas of security studies, regional integration, development and public policy, international relations and public health, etc. Readers will find the book enjoyable because of its lucid and succinct but argumentative presentation.

 

The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi. E-mail: sarifmcjdu@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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