Hazards of COVID-19 to Human Security

by Kathrina Angela P. Gonzales*

4 June 2020

The word ‘security’ has evolved overtime and has been shaped by national and historical context. Security as defined by Malik (2015) “refers to the protection of values we hold dear”, implying that people may have different perspectives on the meaning of ‘security’, depending on what they deem as important for them that they must protect.

Similarly, “peace” does not have an exact definition. The most common definition used today is Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of ‘positive peace’, which refers to the ‘absence of violence’ (UNESCO, 2018). This concept of positive peace was, in fact, first conceptualized by Johan Galtung. He argues that peace does not only mean the absence of conflict or violence but the presence of justice.

Buzan (1945) explains that peace “represent durable and coherent domains of concern [that] have their own set of norms and assumptions” and conflicts with its meaning prohibits a universally accepted definition (from UNESCO, 2018). Dietrich (2012) then emphasizes that peace should be able to adapt to different cultures and marginal strata of society (from UNESCO, 2018), in order for those who have their own meaning of peace positively influence others who are still in the process of figuring out their definition.

It can be argued that security and peace are interdependent, in a sense that in the absence of the other, immediately indicates that the other could not be achieved.

Wallensteen (2015) introduces ‘quality peace’ that removes the barrier or separation between negative and positive peace, which entails post-war conditions for individuals that allows them to have a secure life and dignity (from UNESCO, 2018). Moreover, it pertains to “…maintaining conditions that don’t produce wars in the first place…” (Wallensteen, 2015 [from UNESCO, 2018]).

With that said, peace does not necessarily refer to the absence of war, while security does not only imply developing and using military measures to ensure peace. Rather, peace ensures a quality life among people by protecting their values. This is the centerpiece of human security where concepts of peace and security are intertwined like two sides of the same coin.

The concept of human security came along the United Nations’ Human Development Report in 1994 that transcends conceptual frameworks of security, by looking at human rights and development (Malik, 2015). From the traditional view of security, which is state-centric, human security as an alternative concept is people-oriented.

This alternative view of security allows policy makers to recognize social and economic issues, such as poverty, as roots or causes of conflict. This also encompasses Food Security, wherein it looks at how poverty and unfair distribution of food and resources drive people into famine and leads global failure (Hough, 2015). Health, as well, is an important topic when discussing security, Hough (2015) discusses how globalization has enabled States to disseminate and acquire medical information and acknowledge that global health governance is vital for national and human security.

The economic, political, and social problems that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as hunger, lax political responses or inefficient policies, unequal distribution of resources and food, global recession, loss of income and jobs, and unequal dissemination of medical knowledge, has caused turmoil in the society, thus, posing a grave threat to international peace and security. Enforcing and providing security is the main responsibility of sovereign states to its people, especially during crises.

According to Smallman and Brown (2011), a government that fails to ensure security among its citizens “…faces not only the risk of external takeover but also the loss of legitimacy among its people”. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidance Book emphasizes that although all of society should be involved in national preparedness response in cases of a pandemic, governments must assume leadership roles in facilitating, identifying, appointing and coordinating for responses and providing resources.

However, governments must ensure that their responses are inclusive and sustainable to prevent discord among citizens and to be able to take up the same measures in the future.

While the United Nations must ensure that all Member States abide by its policies and treaties in safeguarding the people’s rights and maintaining peace and security, the WHO is responsible for leading in cases of pandemic crisis. Under the WHO Guidance Book, it states that World Health Assembly resolutions mandates them to provide guidance and technical support among its Member States, which includes preventing and controlling influenza pandemics and annual epidemics, strengthening pandemic influenza preparedness and response, sharing of knowledge about influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits.

It is, therefore, paramount for WHO to work very hard on creating and providing vaccines against the COVID-19 to ensure not only the health security of the affected persons but also the human security of the people of the world.

*The author is a Graduate Student at the Department of International Studies, Miriam College, the Philippines. Email kthrna.gnzls@gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

PIPVTR publishes this essay to encourage graduate students to share their scholarly thoughts on the topic. This essay articulates the personal view of the author and not the position of PIPVTR and Miriam College.


Hough, P., et al. (2015). International Security Studies: Theory and Practice. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, London and New York.

NCBI. (n.d.). Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response: A WHO Guidance Document. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143067/

Smallman, S. & Brown, K. (2011). Introduction to International & Global Studies. TheUniversity of North Carolina Press.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2018). Long Walk of Peace Towards a Culture of Prevention.

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