The Covid-19 has caused a localized human security crisis in the countries of the South
Mobility restrictions, blockages and economic recessions endangered communities during the pandemic in countries of the South. But a human security approach can help protect people’s lives by addressing the multidimensional impact of the pandemic, writes Alexandra Abello Colak (Center LSE Latin America and the Caribbean).
Not only has disrupted normalcy, but the pandemic has exacerbated situations that can be “human security crises” for some particularly vulnerable groups affected by poverty, inequality, historical marginalization and problematic relationships with state institutions and communities. illegal armed actors.
These crises can lead to severe instability, facilitating and intensifying multiple forms of violence. They can also create other obstacles to solving development and security issues in cities.
So what do the human security crises caused by the pandemic look like? And how can we design recovery strategies that can respond to them?
The impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives
Our recent participatory research was conducted by academics, community researchers and members of local organizations in Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin. This research sheds light on how the pandemic has affected some of the most vulnerable people in one of the most affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 2020, Medellin has seen at least 21 indicators of human insecurity deteriorate since the start of the pandemic, this research shows. Falls in economic, food, health, personal, community and political security reveal that the COVID-19 crisis has led to localized human security crises in some communities, which have seen an alarming increase in interconnected and multidimensional threats. These dangers include immediate risks, not only to their physical and mental health, but also to their livelihoods, dignity, human rights and basic survival. Human security crises have been compounded by a significant reduction in the capacity and credibility of key state institutions charged with protecting people from these threats.
Gangs and criminal organizations regulate daily life, not only in Medellin but in other cities in southern countries. They impose coercive social orders and distort the supply of services in the poorest communities. Many of their residents also depend for their livelihoods on the informal economy and precarious jobs that are threatened by mobility restrictions, bottlenecks and economic downturns. In these complex contexts, the pandemic has created a trap of interwoven and mutually reinforcing insecurities that drive people into despair and despair.
Despite the implementation of initiatives by national and local governments to mitigate their impact, the anti-COVID measures themselves have resulted in severe loss of income in Medellin. This left many people unable to eat three times a day, pay for basic services or pay for their accommodation. Widespread deterioration in living conditions has also contributed to a deterioration in the mental health of residents.
Residents have reported difficulty dealing with their emotions, which in turn contributes to even higher levels of gender-based and domestic violence and an increase in suicides. The pandemic has generated tensions over access to emergency aid sent to communities. There have been violent conflicts between long-term residents and the growing number of vulnerable Venezuelan migrants arriving in Colombia in search of a better life.
Lacking access to legal credit systems, many took out informal loans from relatives and friends, but in the worst case, they were also forced to turn to loan sharks from criminal groups for them. go out. Some who could not pay their rent had no choice but to move in with relatives, exacerbating the overcrowded living conditions that contributed to the spread of the virus. Others have settled in cheaper but more marginalized areas where criminal groups speculate on real estate. Some have even turned to prostitution to survive.
Many coping strategies and other spillover effects of the pandemic create additional risks in these contexts. Children and youth with little or no access to computers find it difficult to continue their education online, resulting in higher dropout rates. As a result, they become more vulnerable to coercion and exploitation by criminal groups.
About 58,000 minors are at risk of being recruited by criminal groups since the start of the pandemic, warned the Medellin mediator. Criminal groups have increased their use of children – even as young as 7 – to sell drugs, collect debts and serve as lookouts. The pandemic has created imminent risks to the lives of residents, as local gangs control illegal credit, coercively intercede in widespread informal debt agreements, as well as interpersonal conflicts by imposing violent punishments and forced payments on people. involved persons. This situation created opportunities for criminal groups to expand their influence.
Using a human security approach to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis
Over the past year and a half, localized human security crises like the one in Medellin have unfolded with their own peculiarities in many other cities in the Global South. This has created very unstable contexts where social unrest, violence and crime become more likely to occur and more difficult to manage.
This is the case with cities like Bogota and Cali in Colombia and Durban in South Africa, which all experienced unprecedented social unrest in 2021. There may have been different triggers for the four months of unrest and unrest. police violence in Colombia since April and the two-week riots and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in South Africa in July. But there is no doubt that the devastating consequences of the pandemic for the most vulnerable sectors of the population have played a key role in exacerbating the scale and intensity of the unrest in both countries. Some 44 protesters were killed and 1,650 injured in Colombia, and more than 300 people were killed and more than 2,000 arrested in South Africa, according to local authorities.
These dramatic situations are linked to the recent increase in homicides, thefts and assaults caused by the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in various cities. There is an urgent need for proportionate responses that address the multidimensional consequences of the pandemic prevent the intensification of urban violence, the aggravation of insecurity and the strengthening of criminal groups.
These complex contexts of insecurity linked to COVID in southern countries require comprehensive recovery strategies. These strategies must target the social and economic consequences in terms of jobs and business losses while addressing the interconnected and exacerbated threats by COVID to the well-being and lives of the most vulnerable. This will require a synergistic use of the combined capacities of state institutions, civilian actors, the private sector and local communities.
The human security approach has never been so relevant. It gained visibility as an alternative to militarized and state-centered approaches after the publication of the Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program in 1994. It prioritizes protection against violence and chronic threats such as “hunger, disease or repression”, as well as against “sudden and hurtful disruption in human life. daily lifestyles. It helps to identify the many overlapping challenges for survival and dignity that a complex crisis creates, while forging key actors into frameworks for action that can then create comprehensive, people-centered and context-specific responses that protect and empower individuals and communities.
Evidence shows that the human security approach can be used to work with communities and groups most vulnerable to such challenges. One example is the participatory monitoring of the impact of the pandemic in the most vulnerable communities of Medellin discussed above. We have also co-built human security programs with civil society organizations and communities affected by high levels of violence and insecurity in cities like Medellin, Tegucigalpa in Honduras and the Mexican cities of Apzingan, Guadalupe. and Tijuana.
These projects show that the human security approach has great potential to improve our understanding of how threats interconnected across various dimensions (economic, personal, community, political, environmental, food and health) endanger life. people. Most importantly, they help us identify solutions that can protect the rights of people in each specific and different context.
Sooner we will recognize that the public safety crisis of COVID-19 has accelerated a series of localized human security crises, the faster we can diagnose and deal with their various effects. But the implementation of the human security approach must enable those particularly affected by the pandemic to shape the responses. The integration of a human security perspective into urban recovery strategies in the face of COVID-19 will be essential to transform this global crisis into a catalyst to generate humanize, and empower solutions to contemporary security and development challenges.
• The opinions expressed here are those of the authors rather than those of the Center or LSE
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