Tag Archives: sustainable communities

Cooking School:  The UN Primes for Community-Driven Peacebuilding, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 May

Clean Cooking

It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. Eleanor Roosevelt

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.  Calvin Trillin

For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.  Anthony Bourdain

Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.  Juliet Blackwell

When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat.  African Proverb

This was another diverse and busy week at the UN, literally overflowing with potential policy significance as well as more than the usual number of government and UN Secretariat interventions reminding us that this state-centric institution is rightly judged less by what we have to say about global policy and more by how we impact the lives of people on the ground.

One key to this impact for the UN is its peacekeeping operations, an increasingly complex and multi-faceted undertaking that seeks to blend nationally-seconded contingents (often with “caveats”) and then engage them in what are often a staggering array of tasks – from the physical protection of civilians and UN personnel to community outreach, support for elections and peace processes, and even the projection of force in areas where insurgencies threaten.

This week, UN corridors were filled with women and men in uniform, in part to participate in moving ceremonies to honor the fallen and in part to help address what the Republic of Korea referred to as our “reality gap” that places insufficient attention on what it called “holistic” and “prevention-oriented” responses to conflict.  The USG for peacekeeping LaCroix made a complementary point during the peacekeeper honoring ceremony when he noted that the safety and effectiveness of peacekeepers requires, among other things, that peace operations be tied closely to a political process that “can advance lasting solutions” to conflict.

To the UN’s credit, despite the limitations inherent in our collective policy bubble, there has been in recent years much more of an effort to ascertain the multiple dynamics and expectations of peacekeeping missions beyond ceremonies honoring the service and sacrifices of peacekeepers. To our mind, this is more important than it might appear.  In the US but surely elsewhere, people across the board seem to know less – and in many instances care less than they profess – about what military personnel do “in our name” than at any point in my lifetime.   We have written about this before and won’t repeat it here, but the substitution of what a recent Washington Post article calls our “sanitized way of remembering our troops” for a deeper attentiveness to the complexities of security threat and response, is both demeaning to the troops and dangerous for the rest of us.  We need to know more and care more about military matters regardless of our stances on the use of armed violence; this in part to guarantee that troops are not needlessly sent into harm’s way, but also to help ensure that those so sent (and the weapons that accompany them) are not doing significantly more harm than good.

Thankfully, the UN continues to wrestle sincerely with the many challenges of peacekeeper safety and effectiveness.  Moreover, led by several current UN Security Council members, notably Peru, Poland, Belgium and Indonesia (May’s Council president), we have witnessed a more robust, if still subtle shift in peacekeeping discussions; combining concerns for force generation and legal accountability mechanisms for abuses committed with an interest in communities – not only their concerns and impediments, but also their capacities to build and keep the peace.

Just this week alone, the aforementioned states and other stakeholders reinforced the importance of enabling greater community resourcefulness in the service of peace.  In Friday’s helpful Arria  Formula discussion on the relationship between peacekeeping and peacebuilding, Peru reminded colleagues that guaranteeing access to services and resources people need to improve their family and community circumstances is critical to peacebuilding success, especially to what the Ambassador referred to as the “recovery of the social fabric” after conflict.  Belgium was even more pointed, noting that at the end of the day, “states don’t make lasting peace so much as people do.”  This echoed Belgium’s excellent intervention during this week’s Security Council debate on protection of civilians in which it urged peacekeepers to “master the skills of community engagement” and remain attentive to the ways that “communities remain essential to peace.”

As Thailand rightly noted during that same debate, a durable peace is much less possible “when civilians and communities feel themselves under threat.” And as I was reminded this week by one of our remarkable former interns, not all of that threat is attributable to matters such as terrorism and corrupt governance.  Indeed, much is related to circumstances affecting families and communities, circumstances that the UN has pledged to address in other conference rooms, in part by exploring how best to help people access public services and ratchet up the contributions they are capable of making to the building of more peaceful societies.

One of those human security-related “circumstances” raised this week was on our collective progress on Goal 7 of the 2030 Development agenda related to “affordable and clean energy.”   One speaker after another conveyed the news that while some strides have been made on issues such as “greening” our energy sources and the electrification of rural areas, we are now (as a recent set of policy briefs makes clear) “playing catch-up on almost all of our energy goals and targets. For instance, we are still widely subsidizing fossil fuels and using available energy resources in inefficient and uneven ways.  And despite growing public interest in sustainable energy options, we remain reluctant to finance the full (if socially complex) shift to renewable energy resources despite the many climate and employment benefits that would thus accrue.

But perhaps more germane to this post, as explained by UN Energy co-chair Rachel Kyte, we also remain reluctant to “think about the people behind the numbers,” the children without power in their schools, the persons displaced by conflict who lack even the most basic access to energy for lighting and communications, the mothers (and fathers) for whom “clean cooking” is still a pipe-dream.

This issue of clean cooking touched me deeply.   My own cooking skills are barely sufficient to keep me upright, but I have many friends and acquaintances –including married folks living in a St. Louis (US) suburb — for whom cooking is a major form of self-expression, a joyful bonding exercise that contributes to their general well-being well beyond mere nourishment, providing a respite from our “world weary” selves.

Thus it is sobering to consider the many millions of people worldwide who must cook but who cannot cook cleanly, those who may well face gendered food insecurity and related struggles to provide family sustenance, and yet whose cooking may inadvertently become a death sentence for themselves and others.  Indeed, well over 3 million people each year die as a consequence of cooking without access to the (often simple) equipment and ingredients that could make it safer. Even during a week filled with testimonies to fallen peacekeepers and conflict victims, this narrative saddened me.

It may seem like a long distance from peacekeeping missions to the “everyday magic” of clean cooking, but it isn’t really.   If Brazil was right this week – if effective and robust community skills and resources provide the formula best able to fill our “protection and accountability gaps”– then we have a responsibility to ensure as best we can the general well-being of those community members, to listen more and impose less, to recommit to access to the health, food, energy and other basic needs that will allow citizens, peacekeepers and diplomats to build (and sustain) a durable peace together.

In the Security Council this week, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister insisted that, above all, “We must not let the people down.”  To get there, we have much still to learn about both the abundant skills and often-simple needs that remain resident in our communities. Much like with military matters, our attentiveness to the complex expectations, needs and assets of diverse populations will help us monitor, plan and collaborate for building peace with greater effectiveness.

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Community Chest:  Escaping our Custodial Limitations, Dr. Robert Zuber

24 Jun

Community II

Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s.  Jodi Picoult

The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes roads, creatures, and people. Wendell Berry

I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap. Ani DiFranco

As long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. Michael Pollan

The UN was a place of diverse and competing interests this week.   A contentious Security Council meeting with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Darfur and the withdraw of the United States from the Human Rights Council was balanced in part by positive news on efforts to develop a Global Compact on Refugees and regulate the ammunition indispensable to weapons-related violence. There was also the welcome sight of Yoga mats filling the UN’s North Lawn, persons sharing a collective moment of harmony within an often fragmented UN policy space now surrounded by a seemingly more politically polarized host country.

Much of our own time this week was taken up in discussions with NGOs and diplomats about our collectively shrinking space for access and dialogue, about the mean spirited-ness of so much of our political discourse, about the limited vision guiding our pursuits of international justice and communities safe from the threat of armed violence, and of course about the devastating rights and trauma implications of children separated from parents at the southern US border.

The weekend provided little relief from a week of difficult issues. Early this morning, while waiting for the start of the World Cup, I endured a series of commercials for cars, movies and more that, collectively at least, glorified materialism and crass violence, and reinforced the idea that the world is a fundamentally dangerous place full of evil villains who want to take what we have, interrupting our safe lives and traditional values with multiple iterations of threat.  Our only hope, it seems, is to buy our way out of trouble and, failing that, to support leaders or super heroes that will somehow keep these “dangers” out of our personal and family business.

These images can be relentless.  It takes considerable effort to avoid them and even greater effort to counteract their influences.   We have collectively accepted the “logic” of a world full of people trying to take what we have, trying to hurt and abuse us, trying to undermine the economic and social benefits to which we are “surely” entitled.   Some manage to scheme their way around this pervasive perception of trouble.  Others gather up “their own” in the psychological equivalent of the “circle of wagons.”  In either case, the reaction feeds the narrative rather than seeks to transform it.

The world can certainly be a dangerous place, but not mostly because of migrants crossing our borders but because of leadership that promises unity while preaching division, that promises peace while “arming to the teeth,” and that promises prosperity in the short term by choking off sustainable options for the children who will survive us.  This is not a problem that can be laid solely at the feet of any particular administration but rather at the feet of each of us, our deepening preference for abstraction and distraction over community and communion.  We prefer, as Wendell Berry used to say, to own a neighbors farm than have a neighbor, and we have all the tools and language we need to see such ownership as a savvy investment opportunity while failing to also see it as another nail in the coffin of communities who haven’t yet forgotten how to look neighbors in the eye and work out strategies together for their common prosperity.

The problems that we address through the UN will never be solved unless we change the terms of engagement.  We don’t apologize for our errors of speech or policy.  We don’t acknowledge the valid points of others.  We don’t take direct responsibility for the messes incurred on our watch.  There tends to be too much acrimony “on camera” and not enough vision off it.  One of the loveliest moments of this week at the UN, for instance, was when the Dutch Ambassador and ICC prosecutor walked through the Security Council after a difficult session on Darfur to a group sitting next to us – victims of Darfur violence that been brought into the UN from the Hague in part to assess and encourage prospects for justice.  The ambassador and prosecutor proceded to greet all the victims, thanking them for their presence and pledging that their quest for justice would not in any way be deterred by the Council rhetoric they just witnessed.

But such gestures are too few and far between.  In the US and some other states, we are now, according to some commentators at least, engaged in something akin to a “soft civil war,” a “war” where our relentless levels of criticism of people we barely know and policies we incompletely understand accomplish little other than harden positions and up the ante on hostility.  We know that when we are treated unfairly — criticism that crosses the ad hominem line — we tend to retreat rather than engage, to double-down on even our worst impulses rather than give in to our critics.  Indeed, a recent NY Times article that says support for the US president remains surprisingly stable, in part because people feel the need to defend themselves from what they see as a relentless assault on their social values and political choices. This is an entirely predictable result.  Acrimony against those who don’t “support” us only breeds more of the same.   And retreat can easily become the precursor to retribution, as we have seen over and over in this world.

There was a feed on my twitter earlier today from an otherwise “policy savvy” source claiming that anyone who supports president Trump on migration is “no longer human.”   I would urge this person to “hold that thought” when her adversaries make their own, similar, equally-abstract, human-denying accusations — which they will, which they are.  This goes beyond the often-empowering humor and fair-minded critiques directed at leadership to an ascription of “evil” that we are now much too quick to share, based on illusions we are too slow to own for ourselves.

The solution to the vast anger and mistrust building up in our “kingdoms of abstraction” will not likely be found in our consensus policy resolutions, nor in our public institutions, but in our communities.   When I asked a diverse group of young teens who gathered in the city hall of Arlington MA to meet with me early last week what things they were most concerned about, they mentioned a range of issues from climate change to gun violence.  They lamented all of the acrimony that they witness in the adult world (acrimony adults would not tolerate in children), all of the threats levied with and without weapons.  But mostly they wanted to find a voice, a chance to make the world they will soon inherit a bit healthier, more peaceful, even more predictable.

We talked together about the importance of “belonging somewhere,” of knowing a place and caring for a place, of allowing our senses and not our Instagram accounts to determine how we utilize our time, what we care about, how we protect and enhance the places we have come to love; but also how we share, resolve conflict, invest in others, promote mutual well-being.

When one of the teens asked me in return, “what keeps you up at night?” I responded that global challenges they did not create but will simply not be able to ignore keep me up at night: the plastics that fill our oceans, the mistrust that undermines our political discourse, the “remote” weapons that destroy from ever-greater distances, the “launch pads” for youth that so many of our communities have become, albeit with all the focus on the launch and virtually none on the “pads.”

This toxic brew of abstraction and suspicion that we have been so busy crafting is filled with potential peril for youth.  We are simply losing touch with each other, perhaps for a time, hopefully not for good.   Little positive can come of this distance. Future governments will inherit gridlock of our own making, and the next generation of adults will face the daunting task of opening the ears of people already pushed far into a corner in what might well, for them at least, have become a “diminished world.”

Thankfully, there are still moments of grace in our policy centers, still communities filled with young people determined to practice at local levels the skills and character we will desperately need at global ones.  We must not waste this opportunity to help them along.