World population has probably now reached 8 billion. For many, this will be a cause for alarm rather than celebration. However, Natalia Kanem, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has rightly cautioned against ‘population alarmism’ and warned against population control measures, saying these have historically been ‘ineffective and even dangerous.’ Some commentators call for calm on the basis that past and present projections of runaway population growth leading directly to mass famine and other catastrophes have been overblown. A brief look back at the history of India’s experience of population control reminds us why population alarmism and population control can be so harmful.
Today “the world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war”, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs recently declared. This statement shows that humanitarianism is very much alive today, but that it apparently also has a history. But why am I writing about that on a blog related to the history of disability? That is because I participated in the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA), organized by the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz and the University of Exeter, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Over the span of two weeks in July, spent both in Mainz and Geneva, this event brought together thirteen scholars from all over the world working on issues related to humanitarianism, international humanitarian law and human rights. I was lucky to be one of them, and got inspired to write this short blog about it.
So what was I doing there? My research is on the history of development interventions by UN agencies, aimed at people with disabilities in Tanzania and Kenya. I can certainly relate my subject to human rights, being part of a project that aims at unravelling how disability rose to the mainstream of international human rights discourses. But humanitarianism? I must admit that I did not have a clear idea about what humanitarianism entails before I joined this academy. During the two weeks of discussions and lectures however, it soon became clear that maybe no one has, or at least that different people have very different ideas about it. Certain themes and concepts nonetheless consistently appear throughout different writings on the history of humanitarianism, and I can certainly relate my own research to them: fostering sympathy across borders, mobilizing people through transnational organizations, lobbying for state interventions, and especially the relief of ‘the suffering of distant others’. It thus became clear that looking at my research through the lens of humanitarianism might be a fruitful exercise. I was however equally intrigued by the questions whether and what a disability perspective could contribute to the history of humanitarianism. It was mainly during the second week of the academy that I started to formulate a preliminary answer to these questions. Continue reading “Disability, development, and humanitarianism”→
Timothy Nunan Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies
Follow on Twitter @timothynunan
How did Afghanistan in 2016 end up, yet again, as the graveyard of empires? Not only do Taliban franchises control much of the countryside outside of Kabul, but the start-up Islamic State battles them for influence. Tens of billion of dollars of aid have gone missing. Many Afghans are voting with their feet, forming one of the largest refugee diasporas in the world (a title they held until the Syrian Civil War).
How do narratives of national AIDS epidemics draw from global discourses of health and development? In my own study of AIDS reportage in Indian medical journals, I argue that in the early years of the disease crisis, doctors initially made sense of the social and cultural dimensions of AIDS as it existed in India locally, through episodes of their individual interactions with HIV positive patients. They also gathered information on AIDS in a variety of cross-cultural settings to translate to an Indian context. However, as the epidemic progressed, the story of AIDS in India became increasingly politicized. Particularly around 1998, doctors began to critically engage with debates concerning the politics of unequal access to standard treatments in developing countries. Thus, by tracing the narrative of AIDS in Indian medical journals, we can see the moment of transition when the ‘global became problematic’.
In the early years of the epidemic, doctors focused on episodic local cases relating to a variety of medical ethics issues. Articles focused on problems such as the appropriate attitudes of medical professionals when delivering diagnoses, whether HIV status should be determined in an arranged marriage, and how to obtain consent for collecting blood samples. Typically, the particulars of an AIDS related incident or news story in Delhi, Chennai or Pune is reported, then analyzed for what it illuminates about the medical profession and the delivery of healthcare in India. Because of the nature of transmission and the social stigmas particular to India associated with it, AIDS was treated as a prism, which revealed the shortcomings of medical care. Continue reading “Framing Disease in Development: From Local to Global Narratives”→