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International Humanitarian Speaks at UW-RF
NOV. 12, 2004--An international humanitarian who has worked in Africa
and Asia for more than 25 years says that preoccupation with a "culture
of death" hampers global humanitarian progress.
"There are enough resources, know-how and capacity to eliminate some
of the root causes of human suffering," said Sigurd Hanson, country
director of World Vision-Pakistan and a 1975 graduate of UW-River Falls.
Hansen, who is the University’s Distinguished Alumnus, said in his
recent appearance, "Ironically we lack the will to do so. We seem
to put our faith in weapons to solve problems … that is a tragic
characteristic of our global world."
Hanson, an Onalaska, Wis., native, compared the expenditures of a "culture
of death" with expenditures needed to eliminate poverty and provide
food, education, clean water and health care for all. "Countries
spend $1.6 trillion a year on arms, illegal drugs and advertisements,"
said Hanson. "It would cost just $45 billion a year to bring a lot
of life to many."
"It requires an agreement on values—common core values,"
he said. "To fight for security, prosperity and justice is predicated
on an acknowledgement of interdependence. It requires political narrative,
serious dialog. It requires courage and leadership, not bullying. An understanding
of security means offering hope and opportunity to the destitute of this
world. The lesson for the 21st century is that the fight for security,
prosperity and justice can no longer be won on any one nation's ground."
Hanson's presentation, "Our World…Global Trends and Challenges:
The Role of Humanitarian Assistance," attracted a crowd of several
hundred to North Hall Auditorium.
He outlined other factors driving today's world. People have changed,
and they understand more about why their world is as it is. They are also
less passive yet they feel they have little effect on economic, political
and social factors that affect daily life.
Globalization of economies, technology and communications is a factor,
and anti-globalization is growing, especially in Europe and the developing
world, he said. Knowledge economies are emerging, and education, technology
and communication are the determinants of who participates and who does
Hanson also said that there is a resurgence of interest in spiritual things
while the belief in inevitable human progress is waning. There is an increase
in the power and hostility of fundamentalist religions from Christianity
to Islam, and while globalization draws people together, ethnic and religious
identity root people locally, he said.
"My God is a God of the living," said Hanson in a special commemorative
book on his career published by UW-RF when he received the 2003 Distinguished
Alumnus Award. "I know my God and my God knows me. I believe that
to be the best gift. It is a realization—for me as a Christian—that
I can have and reflect in my personal life."
Several trends facing contemporary humanity include the gap between the
rich and poor, increasing conflicts and internal violence, displaced people,
economic power centers, and shifting patterns of governance, continued
Environmental limitations persist, and in many cases are getting worse,
said Hanson. The food supply is produced through an unsustainable use
of water, and falling water tables, shrinking cropland per person and
collapsing fisheries threaten the world's need for food. Moreover, the
world's most populous countries, China and India, are facing the largest
future water deficits.
Hanson also offered information on the status of women, children, poor
people, the health divide, current and emerging pandemics, emergency relief
efforts and promotion of international justice.
"It is clear to me that since my time at River Falls this world is
ripe with social injustice and needs each and every one of us to participate,"
said Hanson. "It is worth spending time trying to improve the human
condition. There is some contribution that each and every one of us can
make. Every human has the gift to care, to be compassionate, and to listen."
His organization had to vacate Iraq in October, and Hanson noted that
security—rather than the relief mission—is now a main management
concerns in all of his years of humanitarian relief. "The struggle
is, I think, of what is the role of these coalitions of military institutions
as they get into humanitarian roles," said Hanson. "That can
be a healthy challenge."
Hanson said he can no longer safety travel in Afghanistan either. He has
worked with Afghan refugees in Pakistan since 1998, moving between the
two countries during the period of Taliban rule, the Afghan War and the
post-war period. World Vision worked with Afghan agencies and Taliban
authorities to feed more than 1 million starving people during that period.
"Where you have extremism you have information that gets distorted,"
he said. "You didn't hear things like more girls were educated [than
before] during the Taliban rule. Also during the Taliban the [illegal]
drug scene was not operating; now it's going strong. You have two worlds,
what you think is going on and then a mafia-like underworld that fuels
conflict with drugs, arms and pornography."
Hanson notes that humanitarian agencies challenge the status quo. "Agencies
like ours intervene and do something with the positive in the culture
and try to get rid of the negative culture. We know what works to empower
the people—to teach a person to fish."
World Vision-Pakistan is a $15 million democracy program funded by the
U.S. Agency for International Development and part of World Vision International,
a Christian relief and development organization working to promote the
well being of all people - especially children. Established in 1950 to
care for orphans in Asia, World Vision offered material, emotional, social
and spiritual support to 100 million people in 99 countries in 2003. World
Vision has grown to embrace the larger issues of community development
and advocacy for the poor in its mission to help children and their families
build sustainable futures.
Despite immense global challenges, Hanson remains an optimist. "The
main point is … to never give up. It's natural to feel powerless.
I feel powerless most of the time. But it does not stop me. … You
just keep hammering away, fighting for what is right, doing good, and
through one activity at a time you break down the resistance," he
said to May 2004 graduating class at UW-River Falls. "There is no
point to pessimism. I really believe that you have to fight the good fight."
Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:17 Central Daylight Time