Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Can we shift from reactivity to prevention of human threats?

Although some 100 fewer people face starvation today, compared with only a decade ago, there are still millions, especially in Africa and Asia, who are hungry. A new report from the UN points to the continuing problem, especially in the face of the galloping Ebola epidemic.
"We cannot celebrate yet because we must reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life," said World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. (From PressTV, September 17, 2014)
This hungry population is a ready and highly receptive host for the Ebola virus, that some observers fear could double its attack every three weeks, leaving the world potentially facing an epidemic comparable to the Black Death by the end of November, 2014.
And it is not only the lives of endangered millions that are at stake, although clearly that is the primary focus of the belated aid campaign; the countries in West Africa whose populations have been hardest hit could become 'failed states' if the institutions there fail because of the demise of their respective staffs. And this prospect has now been publicly uttered just yesterday by the president of the United States, as he announced that he was sending some 2000 troops to West Africa, primarily Liberia, to build emergency hospitals.
This Ebola epidemic has slowly crept into the consciousness of the world, without the 'benefit' of a large headline, such as a tsunami or hurricane, that would normally generate a comparatively large aid response from all quarters of the planet. This crisis is not generating such an outpouring of both state and private contributions, leaving the WHO and the Doctors without Borders both to claim that there is a real danger that the window of opportunity to bring the killer disease under control is nearly closed. One of the worst case scenarios portrays the mutation of the virus from one that can be transmitted only through bodily fluids to one that is airborne, and thereby spreads even more quickly. As a killer of nearly 50% of those who contract the disease, Ebola carries a severe punch, and although there are small glimmers of reports of the development of an effective antidote medicine, so far the world has no known protection against the virus.
Similarly, the world has no known "antidote" or proven strategy against the human epidemic that is known by a variety of names, the most highly visible currently being ISIS, or ISIL. Yesterday the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the U.S. told the Armed Services Committee of the Senate that, if required, he would recommend to the president the option of ordering "boots on the ground" in both Iraq and Syria to fight this ideological "epidemic".
Traditionally, both the military and the medical fraternities have been virtually under a halo, especially in the mind of the people of the United States, as well as in many other western countries, for their prowess to counter both biological and political enemies. And the pages of the history books are filled with stories of the mounting evidence of the "successes" of both the medical and the military "protectors" of our countries and our lives.
Now, in the face of these growing and complex threats, the world is scrambling from behind to address the potential dangers.
And while the headlines are filled with the daily exploits and evidence of the destructive impact of both the Ebola epidemic and the ISIS terrorist threat, both heinous threats could and likely will demonstrate their capacity to mutate, to adapt to whatever impediments they face in their pursuit of their targeted enemies. Already ISIS has issued public statements welcoming the United States forces to the battle in Iraq and Syria, to be met with suicide bombers strapped to the waists of their brain-washed recruits.
What is really sad in both of these "files" (without in any way depersonalizing their respective impact on the lives of individuals, families and the view of the world they generate) is that while the human response is to "act" to do something that would demonstrate our capacity to "react" and to take responsibility to the degree that we are both able and willing, in the face of the headlines, we are far less interested, willing and able to address the conditions in which both epidemics have developed, continue to grow and potentially to outpace our best efforts to bring them 'to heel.'
Human beings risk being victims of our own proclivity to put off until tomorrow our need to face those complex and initially benign but clearly evident causes of many of our most serious problems. We rush in to situations, for example, that we now call "domestic violence" without paying equal and adequate attention through both policy and programs, to the root causes of that violence. Prevention as a conventional approach to problems is much less radioactive and generative of public notice; it is, in a word, much less "sexy" than a reactive approach that rushes to meet the danger.
We have imported the fire-fighting drama, the battle-field model, the surgical model, the headline-grabbing reactive response on the part of mostly "surprised" officialdom as a way of accomplishing two highly "insider" motives:
1) the refusal to spend public dollars when there is no impending headline that grabs the attention of the public and therefore creates an expectation of action from those responsible for the maintenance of our individual and our body politic's health
2) the demonstration of the willingness of officialdom to respond when they can no longer avoid responsibility for action.
This is not an argument for deploying millions of fingers in the millions of holes that might appear in the dykes we have constructed to protect us, as a way of sapping the creative energies of the human spirit. However, it is an argument in favour of balancing our "rear-view mirror" reflections of plucking the lessons we have learned from our previous  behaviours with an equal, and in the short run, even more emphatic concentration on our capacity and responsibility to both envision the future dangers, and to take individual and collective policy and action steps to make prevention a more relevant and effective strategy for our protection.
For example, our failure to fully address the underlying issues of poverty, hunger, disease and access to education and work with dignity, including access to healthy water, sanitation, in our view, contribute significantly to the growth and development of both the Ebola and ISIS threats. Addressing the most basic of human needs, for the most part, is not an initiative dependent on the deployment of guns, missiles, drones and bombs. It is also not generative of dramatic headlines; it is far less 'useful' to the public relations efforts of political and thought leaders' personal agenda of re-election; it is, in fact, pointing our eyes and our consciousness toward the horizon.
We set up international agencies like the International Criminal Court, and then accept the refusal to sign on important countries like the United States, as it seeks to protect its personnel in conflict. We establish the World Health Organization, without providing adequate funding and professional support to do the job for which it was designed and created. We let organizations like the International Labour Organization atrophy, as the rampage of corporatism rages across the planet. We establish the United Nations as a talking and leadership forum, while denigrating its efforts in our home countries, playing national and personal political interests and ambitions off against the wider interests of the world population. We have warm fuzzies for the Red Cross and other agencies of human compassion, care and protection, especially when we are aroused by some headline, yet bury our individual and our collective heads in the sand when we are less aroused.
In short, we are far more indebted to our own individual "personal and short-sighted" attainments of good feelings, and much less dependent and reliant on our capacity to look a little further down the road, to those easily visible trend lines that could and likely will ensnare our individual and our collective lives, if we, as usual, refuse to acknowledge our complicity in our collective denial of their very existence.
We have made idols out of our narcissism, our "instant-gratification" needs and our "life-is-short-have-fun" attitude...and sacrificed our capacity and our commitment to the future we are leaving to our grandchildren and their children. And we are going to pay a large price for our myopia, as evidence today serves as our canary in our own coal mine.

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