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Malik on Politics and Humanitarianism

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Moazzam Malik discusses political interaction between players and changes in humanitarian responses among countries.


Ky Luu: You have now pointed out many of the challenges that our community faces. Looking at individual leadership, looking at organizational leadership, looking at leadership on the part of governments, how can we take that step forward to address the issues where we see the potential for climate change that many are saying could result in perhaps hundreds of millions of internally displaced to environmental hazards? One only needs to look at the situation in Darfur to see that humanitarian’s face and lack of respect humanitarian principles. All that is to say that thing are not necessarily getting better. So what do we need to do, what can we do to achieve some measurable results, short of additional funding that goes into this field?

Moazzam Malik: For me, the fundamental issue here is politics, actually. At the level of public service, at the level of academia and so on, there is a lot that we need to do to get right. We need to have good tools, we need to have sufficient funding, we need evidence bases, we need to underpin our work. But the fundamental challenge for me is politics. And politics not in a big “P” capital sense of just heads of states or ministers, but actually building a political commonality between how people like myself, and you, and people working in government actually approach international problems. How do we define these problems? How do we understand these problems? How do we believe, what is the basis, of our response? And that’s about building coalitions and commonality of view that stretches not just between the traditional partners—those who can afford to have taken an interest—the West, Europe, North America, international agencies. It’s about stretching that out across the globe. When I see colleagues from Egypt, or Indonesia, or Brazil, or Mexico, or China, or Malaysia, or any number of countries, India, in our interconnected world, they are increasingly as aware as someone living in London today of what is going on around that world. And their impetus, their impulse to respond and react is no different to ours. But the history of the development business, the humanitarian business, is a history that is very firmly located in the west. It’s located very much in a European tradition, in a North American tradition. But that needs to change. We need to build, we need to translate our humanitarianism to a language that’s understood around the globe. And I think it’s beginning to happen. So you’ll need to look at, for example, how the Chinese authorities dealt with the earthquake last year, or indeed the Indonesians, or the Mozambiquans, or Pakistanis have dealt with their own disasters, and what you see increasingly is that they’re looking to respond to their own emergencies. There is an impulse and understanding that if disaster strikes, they need to respond to their people. But with that, increasingly also comes a sense of, “Well if we can help our own people, can we help our neighbors?” ASEAN (http://www.aseansec.org) played a very interesting and creative role at the time of the Burma cyclone last year. Their motivations were driven by humanitarianism. And inevitably in these environments, there is a political dimension to this. So for me, the big challenge here is, how do we broaden the understanding of international problems, and how do we build a common impulse? And that means us being ready to concede ground, and to understand other people’s perspectives. But it’s that which will win us the political space in which the problems of Darfur, or Sri Lanka, or in Afghanistan can be addressed by the international community.  

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