International Development and Affairs, Culture, and Cross-Disciplinary Topics



Reassessing the Link Between Politics and Humanitarianism

As a globalized world, we have entered an era in which various facets have become interconnected. Unfortunately, it has been primarily through events characterized by violence, fear, and destruction that the global community has recognized the importance of protecting the world’s people. Interwoven networks have made it such that issues once seen as local or state-wide have now crossed borders, with widespread consequences.

Solutions to issues such as human trafficking, poverty, violence, and inequality, among others, may be solved only through action by our world as a whole. Recognizing the need to come together to reach a common goal, organizations have vocalized a need to develop standards and strategies for change – but how far does the echo for these initiatives reach?

The link between politics and humanitarianism has been one of the most crippling characteristics of globalism in the following ways:

1. The manner in which politics acts as a guiding principle in humanitarian decision making and action.

2. Causing humanitarianism to draw away from altruistic intentions. Instead, the world’s social conscience has become saturated with power politics through the opportunistic behavior of world actors.

Feats can be achieved in the direction of protecting human rights, preventing violence, ensuring economic and political stability, eliminating poverty, and providing resources and support to vulnerable individuals. This is not to say that change will come overnight. The amount of time, resources, and effort cannot be underestimated. However, one thing can be said for sure, until we reassess the link between politics and humanitarianism, the question is not whether it is too great of a feat to bring about change. The question is instead: When will human lives be considered of greater value than economic and diplomatic interests of actors in our global chess game?

Why International Issues Must be Addressed with Cross-Disciplinary Responses: The Case of Ebola

Ebola has taken over media as an international health concern in 2014. With questions mounting over whether Ebola will become widespread and how to contain the disease, it is time to bridge the gap between the natural and social sciences. More specifically, it is essential to integrate research in key areas such as public health and epidemiology with key information in fields such as anthropology.

My first encounter with a story that expressed the bridge between the Ebola outbreak and anthropologists was in NPR publication, “The Experts The Ebola Response May Need: Anthropologists”. In the article, NPR staff point out that anthropologists may be key in addressing the Ebola outbreak, given their knowledge of local traditions as related to the spread of the disease, as well as the understanding of how fear plays a role in the epidemic.

In this post, I suggest that anthropology does not stop short of providing assistance in the realm of knowledge of local customs or fears of Ebola – anthropologists provide a wealth of knowledge through the use of ethnographic research and observation that is key to addressing a number of issues, Ebola included.

The reality is that in many cases, through in-depth understanding and wholistic studies, anthropologists are aware of potential widespread issues, whether they be social, political, or public health concerns, well before others in separate fields. The Ebola outbreaks acts as no exception.

Aside from providing an anthropological analysis of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a more direct message must be expressed: Ebola not only represents a failure of a number of health systems and the weakness of the international community in responding to global health issues. The 2014 Ebola outbreak represents the failure to address the desperate need to find cross-disciplinary solutions to global issues.

Anthropology is unique in that it provides an understanding of groups, interactions, phenomenon, ideas, and a number of other factors that are encompassed in the “study of mankind”. The gap between social and natural sciences must be bridged to provide for the free-flow of knowledge across fields. As we recognize the need for sustainable solutions, “sustainability” must become synonymous with “cross-disciplinary”.

Suggested Reading: “Notes from Case Zero: Anthropology in the time of Ebola“; “Ebola in Perspective

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