In the chilling heat of the summer

Written by Sultan Hajiyev, UNDP Libya Country Director 

Here it begins! Sitting at our compound in Tripoli, we were watching the World Cup Final. The tension was palpable, with several dozen pairs of eyes chained to the screens. Goal, another one! Is another one coming?...The screens went black. I remember the rolling, moaning sigh of frustration and the agitating wait for the generators to kick in. Eventually, we got the game back, only to lose it again. 

The game on July 15 was surreal, with a fountain of goals unseen in the finals for some 50-odd years, with crazy exploits by both sides, surprise visitors to the field, and a brilliant victory of the Equipe de France. Electricity outages have added to its already bizarre (let me use this word – after all, France won!) scenario. The next day, I heard colleagues talking about the game with few of them who had watched at the compound complaining about electricity problems. ‘Indeed’ one of our national staff members said, ‘we have not had electricity at home for the last 4 days’.

Those of us internationals working in crises countries, we all do know that while some of our life and work conditions are at times not easy, what our national staff is facing is even more complex. Yet it was this remark, made almost casually, that somehow took me aback. However, here is what our national staff is facing in crises countries (it is not about Libya only): lack or absence of basic public services; long hours in ques to get some cash from the few functioning ATMs in the city; fuel and water shortages -   these are only a few to mention. This seems to be collateral damage of complex emergencies. But it also fuels and jeopardizes the situation on the ground, adding and almost institutionalizing the abnormal.

I recall a survey the UN commissioned years ago (perhaps one can dig out a copy). It was rather basic, aiming to identify common features linking availability and quality of basic civil services and security statistics. Results turned out to be shocking: the most direct dependence/correlation between the two turned out that the number of terrorist attacks is at all times high in areas where people are very dissatisfied with how the Government manages their needs.

One surely cannot explain terror and radicalism only by poor quality of Government services. It would be both naïve and simplistic. But one can also hardly deny that whenever and wherever people feel abandoned and unprotected by those who must take care of them, thus they are much more receptive to protest sentiments. In developed countries with strong democratic traditions it informs voters decisions, may result in several civil actions and will sometimes exceptionally get few car and shop windows smashed with riot police using tear gas. In countries in special development circumstances, a Kalashnikov is the most trusted tool for a political disagreement, frequently fueled by radical ideology.

It is crucially important for us to remember that people’s patience is not endless. Once the tipping point is reached, it is much more difficult to regain control than avoid going beyond this pointbreak. Michael Jackson left a mixed legacy behind, but for the world to be a safer place, it is crucial that the lyrics of one of his songs – ‘They don’t really care about us’ – finds no traction in ordinary people’s mind as they think of their national Governance systems. It is one of UNDP’s priorities to contribute to its Government partners efforts aimed at strengthening governance and rule of law; and building sustained basic social services. With no intention to present SDGs as some kind of ‘one size fits all’ magic solution, progress towards SDGs is one of the best mechanisms to hear and address people’s concerns. We will otherwise all face the chilling heat of summer at more than one place.  

 

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