Challenges to Human Security in the New Age

Assalamu'alaikum .. May Peace be upon you

I start with the word 'Peace' because there is no other word in the vocabulary that is more relevant, more important and more necessary during this time.

'Peace' however is not just about the absence of war. It is something more proactive, more holistic, and deeper. It has three dimensions, all linked together intimately and are vital core of human security and human survival. The three dimensions are:

  • Peace within ourselves (Inner Peace)
  • Peace with other people (Social Peace)
  • Peace with the environment (Earth Peace)

Today unfortunately, we are in a world in which this peace is severely shattered in the personal, social and environmental dimensions. There are many ways of illustrating this, and one stark reminder was provided for us by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – 'World Report on Violence and Health' launched last month.

One person commits suicide roughly every 40 seconds
One person is murdered every 100 seconds
One person dies in armed conflict every 100 seconds – the bulk of them civilians and 'intrastate' as against 'interstate' victims.

Overall the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 1.6 million people met premature and ugly deaths in 2000. The most exhaustive international study on the subject, it highlighted the extent of violence in the home and in the street, abuse of children and the elderly, suicide and war. And these figures, we are told, are only a part of the story. Physical, sexual and psychological abuse occur daily, extensively undermining the health and wellbeing of many millions of persons. (The full report can be accessed at: http://www.who.int/violence-injury-prevention)

It will be a gross understatement to state that we live in the most uncertain and most dangerous of times!

If Almighty God established an interplanetary commission to investigate how we earthlings are managing this planet, the members would be shocked at our irresponsibility - our rating for 'planet-hood' would probably be between poor and dismal!

First, they would find an 'economics' driven largely by 'casino capitalism', 'mad' or speculative money, pornography, gambling, puerile entertainment and various kinds of criminal activities. The greatest growth indicator they find will be the "Gross Criminal Product" - GCP! And they will find mushrooming new cradles of modern civilisation - the tax havens, the fiscal laundrettes and not to mention creative accounting.

Secondly, they will find a 'society' marked by violence and inequity where we have billions for space exploration and armaments but not the dollars and cents for basic health, education and shelter for billions of poor.

Thirdly, they will find an 'environment' so destroyed that the air, water and soil is often taking paths of no return and leading communities of living things into self-destruction sometimes called 'ecocide'.

But it is not the economics, equity or ecological failures that will strike them as the foundation of our seemingly reckless and maddening approach to global human security and sustainable human development. The "mother of all failures", they will discover, is a governance failure.

The Interplanetary Commission will find, among the littered landscape, a culture of violence, manipulation and waste.

What can we do?

Can we do something to reverse this madness? Can we create a new paradigm of development and happiness that enables peace with ourselves, peace with other people and peace with Mother Earth? As citizens, as community leaders, we can and we must. We must make that our Agenda for the 21st Century.

History has two important lessons for humanity:

Firstly, every major civilisation was destroyed because it did not make peace with the environment.

Secondly, if you want to know where any country's future is heading, look at their main cities - if they cannot manage their cities, they have little hope in managing their future. A 'sick city' is a sign of a sick civilisation.

The Five 'Plosions'

Cities in Asia are undergoing some of the most dramatic and spectacular changes ever.

  • Asia has the tallest buildings - The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the successors will also be in Asia.

  • Asia has the most priciest cities for expatriates - Tokyo and Hong Kong. Eight of the ten most priciest cities in the world are Asian cities.

  • According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study, 13 of 15 cities with the worst air pollution were in Asia (air pollution, including lead poisoning, in Jakarta, Indonesia, according to a Asian Development Bank study, was costing more than US 2 billion a year in terms of brain damage to children and premature death and illnesses generally).

  • Urban poverty is potentially the most explosive political, economic and social force - in India, for example, the number of urban poor are exceeding the rural poor, with profound consequences.

  • We have cities like Singapore that are aiming to be, and will probably succeed to be, the world's most intelligent city - management wise and information wise.

The Asian urban landscape is one of immense contrast - of ostentatious plenty and abject poverty, of great beauty and terrible ugliness, of vast opportunity and yet rampant oppression. 17 of the world's projected 27 mega-cities will be located in the Asia region.

Five key processes are impacting on Asian cities.

Firstly, we are seeing a horrifying explosion of people and new kinds of both richness and poverty.

Secondly, we are witnessing a deafening implosion, a deepening alienation, and anger, manifesting itself in urban violence, and even more, in urban terrorism; the cities are becoming war zones.

Thirdly, we also see a painful displosion, a disintegration, a breaking up of family, of community, of indigenous values. We see wasted lives of young children turned into sick streets, and sicker values.

Fourthly, we face a 'techplosion', the introduction of a new complex, often ruthless, technologies operating in environments inappropriately prepared for such ventures. We see the mindless proliferation of armaments of all kinds. We see them side by side with problems requiring, but not getting, the simple technologies that will give clean water, adequate nutrition, basic literacy and the kind of livelihood opportunities that could wipe out poverty in a decade, if not in a generation. Instead we get potential Bhopals. (Bhopal was a city in India that suffered an industrial holocaust and became a mega gas chamber). Our cesspool of sewage also ends up as poisoned cocktails. Not so long ago, a test for lead levels was done on the umbilical cords of some 2 dozen babies born in a leading hospital in one of the Southeast Asian capitals. The shocking news was that every one of those samples had lead levels higher that those acceptable. These innocent babies were doomed to mental retardation. Is that to be our future - maddening development, and mad people!

Fifthly, we are also seeing an 'infoplosion' - proliferation of mindless entertainment and propaganda that is overwhelming and confusing, often creating anew addictions and new distractions, often enlarging the power of bureaucracy and commercial propaganda. The taping of the power of these new information technologies by the community, especially the 'information poor' for knowledge and for advocacy is going to be necessary, but it will not be easy, for power will more readily move to the already powerful.

Forgive my use of pyrotechnic images - explosion, implosion, displosion, techplosion and infoplosion - but these are 'hot' issues and our cities are in crisis.


There is a need for a clear vision for our cities, a need for a holistic approach.

I suggest a 'Panchasila' or five principles that can help us with shaping the future of our cities. The five key elements are that is we want our cities to be our homes, they have to be developed in ways that are:

  • Socially Just
  • Ecologically Sustainable
  • Politically Participatory
  • Economically Productive
  • Culturally Vibrant

We need to make Asian villages, towns and cities outstanding examples of this 'Panchasila', with the five values central to their vision, the planning and their actions.

Sick Cities

If you wanted a strategic checklist of the 'Sick City', there are ten areas that are crying out for attention:

1.Access / Mobility
2.Air Quality


We have to address these in a creative an integrated way. Unfortunately, at the present time many of our growing cities are barely coping. We have both a 'caring' and 'caring' (motor) crisis. If we are not careful, we may end up with what one sociologist had called 'Urbicide'.

Some Innovations

Time will not allow an extensive discussion on solutions, but I wanted to share two interesting processes that demonstrate the kind of proactive, holistic and deep thinking that is necessary to work for human security and sustainable human development.

The Health Cities Movement

The first of this is a movement that is rooted now in many parts of the world successfully. It is called the Healthy Cities Movement and operating in over a thousand countries all over the world.

It has it's roots in 'The Ottawa Charter of Health'

The pre-requisites for health as laid out in the Ottawa Charter are:

6.Stable ecosystem
7.Sustainable resources
8.Social justice

The Healthy Cities project views cities as complex organisms that are living, breathing, growing and constantly changing. A healthy city is one that improves its environments and expands its resources so that people can support each other in achieving their highest potential.

A Healthy City is one that strives to provide eleven things:

1.A clean, safe physical environment of high quality (including housing quality);
2.An ecosystem that is stable now and sustainable in the long term;
3.A strong, mutually supportive and non-exploitive community;
4.A high degree of participation and control by the public over the decision affecting their lives, health and well-being;
5.The meeting of basic needs (for food, water, shelter, income, safety and work) for all the city's people;
6.Access to a wide variety of experiences and resources, with the chance for a wide variety of contact, interactions and communication;
7.A diverse, vital and innovative city economy;
8.The encouragement of connectedness with the past, with the cultural and biological heritage of city dwellers and with other groups and individuals;
9.A form that is compatible with and enhances the preceding characteristics;
10.An optimum level of appropriate public health and sick care services accessible to all; and
11.High health status (high levels of positive health and low levels of disease).

More information is obtainable from: http://www.htalthycities.org or http://www.who.dk/healthy_cities/welcome.htm

The Taiping Peace Initiative

One other young and promising innovation is the Taiping Peace Initiative (TPI). Based in the town of Taiping in Peak, Malaysia, it's name means 'Everlasting Peace'. The town was established to mark peace between two warring mining groups over a hundred years ago. Nestled in beautiful setting of a mountain and lake, one of the best kept war memorials and wonderful history of communal peace and gentle living, it recently woke up to build on its asset to create a peace park, undertake peace art, develop a peace centre, and initiate a 'Doing Peace' workshop. All this is new, but a wonderful example of a town, a University, the United Nations and the community to make peace mean real things to real people. Last year it adopted the 'Taiping Declaration of the Culture of Peace' which reads as follows:

'Express our shock and sadness on the tragic and violent events in New York City and elsewhere and the loss of thousands of innocent loves of peoples of many faiths and from many countries.

  • Condemn violence and terrorism as a means of settling disputes

  • Calls upon the United Nations, governments and all peoples of the world to strengthen their resolve for peace and justice by promoting, protecting and supporting strategies and actions to promote a CULTURE OF PEACE which includes the following:

1.Respect All Life - Respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice.

2.Reject Violence - Practice active non-violence, rejecting violence in all its forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economical and social, in particular towards the most deprived and vulnerable such as children and adolescents.

3.Share with Others - Share our time and material resources in spirit of generosity to put an end to exclusion, injustice and political and economic oppression.

4.Listen to Understand - Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity, giving preference always to dialogue and listening without engaging in fanatism, defamation and rejection of others.

5.Preserve the Planet - Promote consumer behaviour that is responsible and development practices that respect all forms of life and preserve the balance of nature on the planet.

6.Rediscover Solidarity - Contribute to the development of our community, with the full participation of women and respect for democratic principles, in order to create together new forms of solidarity.

  • Calls on the United Nations, peace loving governments and people to set up a World Commission on Peace and Justice to examine the roots of the current proliferation of violence and terrorism and to develop recommendations for action that will support a Culture of Peace.

  • Call on all peoples of wisdom and power to spread the following messages from two great leaders of peace and non-violence:

'We must remember that darkness can never overcome darkness, and hatred will never overcome hatred, Only light can pierce darkness, only love can soften hatred, only peace can defeat violence.' – Martin Luther King

'I object to violence because when it does appear to do good, the good is only temporary - the evil it does is permanent.' – Ghandi

May peace prevail on Earth'

More information on this initiative is available at: http://www.everlastingpeace.net


Human security is only going to ensure if we look at the roots of the culture of violence, manipulation and waste that pervades our world today.

It can only be ensured if we take a proactive, holistic and deep approach to it, both locally and globally.

It can only be ensured of we build leadership locally and globally that cares and shares.

It can be built if we rebuild 'the community spirit'. Every where there is terrible destruction of community, of caring, of fellowship, of tolerance and respect!

We have to move from the 'axis' of evil, of violence, manipulation and waste to the 'Triangle of Hope'

  • or balance and harmony;
  • of stewardship and trusteeship; and
  • of accountability now and to the future, and for many of us, the Almighty

The future is an urban future. That is where both good and evil will accumulate. If we don't get our towns and cities right, we don't have a future based on human security and sustainable development.

Let me end with a quote from the late Robert Kennedy who was tragically killed while campaigning for the Presidency of the United States of America:

Gross National Product means neither the health of our children, the quality of the education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, not the strength of our marriages. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and safety of our streets alike. It measures neither our wisdom, nor our learning, neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our compassion, nor our devotion to country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living, and it can tell us everything about our country except those things that make us proud to be part of it.

Back to Speeches