By YENA SEO, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Opinion)
Delegates from the Special Summit on Sustainable Development have gathered at the Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN) conference to address development and infrastructure after global crises. The 2014 Ebola outbreak demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the international community to adequately respond to health crises and to facilitate development and reconstruction after such crises, particularly in underdeveloped regions. While the Special Summit on Sustainable Development has made great strides in addressing some of the root issues that prevent effective development and infrastructure, there is still a dire need for more investment in local, community-led initiatives.
Many of the nations seem to be advocating for a top-down approach that would examine the global infrastructure and raise standards for countries. The reasoning behind this approach is that if standards and norms for health infrastructure are higher, countries will be more adequately prepared to deal with potential crises. Several delegations, including representatives from Cuba, argued that the international standards needed to be reexamined and improved.
Although these approaches are necessary and important, they do not address some of the root issues that plagued the international community during the Ebola outbreak. The containment of Ebola did not simply occur because countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia did not meet adequate standards. Instead, these issues occurred due to lack of cultural competency, poor communication, and a lack of investment into community resources.
In many underdeveloped regions of the world, local organizations are able to provide a level of cultural competency that larger, international agencies simply do not have. As a result, these community organizations are able to effectively communicate with citizens who need the aid, and their cultural and geopolitical knowledge of certain regions are of essential value when facilitating development initiatives.
In the case of the Ebola crisis, international agencies such as the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Catholic Relief Services provided manpower and global resources to contain the outbreak and treat patients. However, it was the strong efforts of local leaders and community organizations that truly complemented these efforts. In Liberia, traditional chiefs from the country’s 16 counties worked with the World Health Organization to assist health workers and take measures against the Ebola virus in their own communities. These leaders were able to travel to citizens in their counties and record radio messages and public relations campaigns in various tribal languages.
One delegation in the Special Summit on Sustainable Development, the Russian Federation, has committed to investing in community resources to combat future crises. The Russian Federation is working with a bloc that emphasizes the importance of local leaders and provides actionable items that would increase cooperation between local organizations, state governments and the international community.
While ensuring cooperation between state governments and global organizations is critical, it is of the utmost importance that the Special Summit on Sustainable Development invest in community-led initiatives. In order to prevent another global disaster such as the Ebola outbreak, a resolution must be wholly comprehensive and invest in improvement on every level.
Delegates in the Special Summit on Development waiting to speak on development after global crises.