On October 16, the Aurora Dialogues event titled ‘The Humanitarian Impacts of Living in a Broken World’ took place in the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in Italy. Part of the 2022 Aurora Prize weekend, it was preceded by the ‘Conversation with Aurora Co-Founder Noubar Afeyan,’ which highlighted Aurora’s contribution to addressing the most acute ongoing crises.
The ‘The Humanitarian Impacts of Living in a Broken World’ event brought together world-famous peace and human rights activists and humanitarians, including the members of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee, as well as representatives of the Aurora community and the Initiative’s supporters who joined forces to discuss the impact of modern crises on vulnerable populations including women, children, and displaced people and what could be done at a national and international level to identify ideas capable of delivering positive, tangible change.
The discussion was moderated by Lord Ara Darzi, Chair of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London. In his opening remarks, he congratulated 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate Jamila Afghani and spoke of the negative effect the pandemic had on the most vulnerable. “As we’re moving from probably one of the worst pandemics that we’ve lived through in this generation, COVID-19, and we’re recovering from its wide-ranging impact we find that we’re living in an increasingly unstable and challenging world. There is a significant growth in conflict alongside the pandemic and climate change, and their effect on inflation, energy, and food security can make all of us feel and face significant uncertain times in the future. All of these elements particularly impact the most vulnerable, including children, women, displaced people, and marginalized communities,” said Lord Darzi.
Journalist, novelist, and The Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius spoke about the journalism’s role in addressing the crises of this broken world. “My business is about immediate crises. I like to say that you’ll never read a headline in a newspaper that says, ‘Plane Lands Safely.’ You’ll read the one that says, “Plane Crashes.’ I mention that because in the case of these difficult problems that are a little further away, that are not plane crashes but planes that are going to crash, we have trouble, in my profession, focusing adequately on the future,” said David Ignatius.
Marina Sapia, Chief of the International Desk at Rai TG1, elaborated on the certain desensitization forced onto us by the media: “Conflict and terrorism is something that the media have driven us to live with. We have learned to live with a certain portion, every day, of blood and violence in our collective imagery. This is not a good way to approach conflict, but we must be aware of this. Through the main flow of information, we have learned to know many areas of the world which have been endemic in conflict.”
When talking about different ways of supporting the victims of atrocities, Julienne Lusenge, 2021 Aurora Prize Laureate, Co-Founder of the Fund for Congolese Women (FFC) and Co-Founder and President of Women's Solidarity for Inclusive Peace and Development (SOFEPADI), highlighted the importance of communities coming together to get the perpetrators prosecuted. “We took a piece of paper and started writing down the names of the women and the girls [who were raped] and the date, and who did that, and where they did that. And when we heard about the International Court of Justice, we sent the files to them to ask for justice for the women of the Ituri province. They reached out to us, and we brought the women to give testament,” explained Julienne.
This sentiment was echoed by Ruben Vardanyan, Co-Founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and Noôdome, who reminded the participants that moral leadership can be found not only in individuals, but in societies, too. “One of the important elements of the moral leadership and the communities we’re talking about is not only the rule of the law, but also the rules of the community saying, “You are untouchable. We will not shake your hand.” <…> We’re going back to that now. I think there will be both formal and informal rules in the societies, with people saying, “You know what? In our society, it’s impossible to do that”,” explained Mr. Vardanyan.
Going back to the issue of climate crisis, Riccardo Clerici, Senior Government Liaison Officer at the UNHCR, reminded that it posed additional challenges for those seeking shelter from conflict. “Climate change, for refugees, is a driver of displacement. Even when a refugee flees, is displaced, and gets to what we call the first country of asylum, those first countries of asylum are also environmentally fragile. Think about Pakistan with the largest Afghan population and the flooding that just happened. So, the need for our organization and for you today to understand of all the many things in the context of humanitarian emergency are adaptation measures,” noted Riccardo Clerici.
An important issue to factor in when dealing with complex issues like that, agreed Peter Sands, Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is their inevitable tendency to clasp together, aggravating the combined impact. “We have a way, as humans, of trying to put everything in boxes. We like to talk about a pandemic; we like to talk about climate change; we like to talk about conflict, but actually, these concurrent crises all overlap and combine with each other, and for the poorest and the most vulnerable in the world they pile on. And they typically end up, whatever their origin is, killing people through the vehicle of infectious disease,” stressed out Mr. Sands.
Dele Olojede, Pulitzer Prize winner, member of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Chairman of the Board of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship, agreed with this view, adding: “You begin to see, in far-flung corner of the worlds, the ricochet effects of conflicts that start in one place and expand to the other. Unfortunately, despite significant experience with conflict in the world, with various historically important crises, we still have not developed the talent for spotting most of them before they metastasized.”
Many of the panelists represented international entities set on improving the situation, including María Elena Agüero, Secretary General of the Club de Madrid, who elaborated on its mission: “At the different levels, be it at the global level when we work with international organizations, the UN, or the regional ones like European Union, at the level of governments, at the level of civil society and the private sector, what members of the Club de Madrid do is they draw on their experience and they’re convening their power of access in order to build those bridges, to bring those issues to those who are in the decision-making position.”
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi Member, Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, pondered the question of why some countries seem to suffer from disasters more than others. “Look at earthquakes, for example. It’s a natural disaster, but then, you look at various countries and the impact of earthquakes in a country that is progressive and has a very strong progressive infrastructure, and one that hasn’t, which results in migration of people from less developed countries to developed countries. And in 20 years’ time, the bulk of planet Earth will be uninhabitable,” said Shirin Ebadi.
2019 Aurora Prize Laureate Mirza Dinnayi, whose organization Luftbrücke Irak (Air Bridge Iraq) has helped save thousands of victims of ISIS-inflicted terror, raised the issue of the precarious position of minorities living in the countries affected by conflict. “One of the core problems, especially for those minority groups, is that they are facing double discrimination. First, their country is in need, and there are big problems, and second, those minority groups, especially religious minority groups, are facing the rise of extremism in our countries. Therefore, the challenge is huge,” said Mr. Dinnayi.
Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering and Co-Founder and Chairman of Moderna, read some of the headlines from 1922 and 2022, drawing parallels between the concerns humanity had had a hundred years ago and the ones it has today – war, diseases, inflation, disasters. “Some things have changed, but human nature and institutional nature haven’t really changed, and so we’re dealing with many of the same types of conflicts and big changes. The question is, if we were given the right to write the headlines for next year, what would we want them to be? And my guess is, it would not be any of the headlines we just read. I think part of the discussion, the activity of what many of you do in the humanitarian section is, “Can we write some of these headlines instead of reading them and feeling badly about them?”,” said Dr. Afeyan.
In conclusion, Lord Ara Darzi expressed his gratitude to the panelists for the amazing contribution they have made to the discussion. “I’m sure you will be very reassured, leaving this room, that we still have faith and hope, and we will continue to do so,” said Lord Darzi.