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The inconsistent representation of human welfare in Southeast Asia: an analysis of human (in)security

Scott Edwards
University of Birmingham

David Norman
University of Birmingham

David Norman
University of Birmingham



There are many issues confronting human welfare in Southeast Asia. Whilst these have similar impacts on populations in the region, the processes behind their representation vary to a strong degree; especially in whether they are framed with reference to human (in)security. Some are securitized, allowing extreme measures, whilst others go through such processes and fail. Furthermore, some issues that have similar impacts on the health of populations are not represented as human insecurity, and are either ignored or represented differently. This panel involves scholars analysing different issues impacting on human welfare in Southeast Asia today and the processes behind their representation. The first paper analyses the paradigm of water security, and the way in which urban water services and water hazards are linked to water security in mega-delta cities, using Jakarta as a case study. The second analyses the impact of the haze on human welfare, and the way in which solutions have been blocked due to a failure in securitization, linked to the nature of, and the power distribution within, the Indonesian political regime. The third paper argues that continued securitization of irregular migration in Malaysia precludes proclivity for, and establishment of, effective mechanisms for countering human trafficking. The fourth paper analyses the changing trajectory of health-related consumption practice of Chinese-Malaysian youths who regularly move between rural and urban spaces, impacting on their welfare.



Paper 1: The haze as a case of failed securitization and the politics of environmental security in Indonesia

Scott Edwards
University of Birmingham

The haze that results from the burning of forests in Indonesia engulfs Southeast Asia and has a detrimental effect on the health of millions of people. It has also contributed to Indonesia becoming the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Due to these effects it has often been declared to be a case of environmental insecurity, both by regional and national actors, as well as scholars. These consistent declarations, alongside an acceptance by the population of Indonesia and ASEAN, suggests that the issue has been ‘securitized’, allowing more extreme measures to combat it. However, such measures have not been enacted and a change of behaviour has been minimal on the ground, suggesting the case is one of a null or failed securitization.

This paper argues that this case of failed securitization needs to be explored in greater depth to fully understand the processes of securitization. Our findings suggest that securitizing moves and audience acceptance do not necessary lead to the successful effectuation of emergency measures. We argue that this unsuccessful securitization needs to be understood against Indonesia’s vast decentralization process, which has led to a diffusion of power from Jakarta to the provinces. We found that it is the ability of local and regional elites, often entrenched in patronage networks with plantation owners, to curtail environmental policies which help us to explain the continuation of forest fires. It appears therefore that there are other, intermediate factors – in our case mainly linked to the nature of, and the power distribution within, the political regime – that impact on the success of securitization processes.



Paper 2: Conceptualising Urban Water Security: A case study of Jakarta, Indonesia

Thanti Octavianti
Oxford University

Water security is an emerging paradigm of water management and has been defined in a variety of ways. Rooted in risk science, water security is defined as “the tolerable water-related risk to society” (Grey et al, 2013 p. 4). However, water security means different thing to different people as it depends upon one’s perspectives and particular geographical settings (Cook and Bakker, 2012). This research seeks to conceptualise water security in urban settings in order to support decision-making process in mega-delta cities.
Lack of 24/7 access to water, inadequate water infrastructure to cope with urban growth and flooding are some of the factors increasing water insecurity in a city. Most mega-cities (population over 10 million) are located in deltas and are susceptible to environmental hazards. This condition is aggravated by climate change, with potential for increased severity and frequency of droughts and floods, and sea level rise, resulting in delta cities that are more prone to water insecurity.
After urban water security has been conceptualised, water problems in Jakarta were used to operationalise the term. Jakarta faces multifaceted urban water problems, particularly regarding water services and flooding. Only 60% of the city’s population is served by reliable piped water services. The city also suffers from coastal and river flooding. Without intervention, North Jakarta is predicted to become submerged by 2030 (Antara, 2013).
The method used in this research was systematic review by analysing current literatures’ views on urban water problems and their relation to urban water security. A variety of topics was considered under the water security ‘umbrella’ term, from urban water services (drinking water and wastewater), hazards (floods and droughts), and biodiversity/ environment. However, for mega-delta city context, concerns were placed more to urban water services and hazards in comparison with biodiversity. Moreover, population and infrastructure growth in a city leading to an increase in demand for water is of great importance but the issue is underexplored in the current urban water scholarship.



Paper 3: Securitizing Victims: The Precarious Position of Trafficked Individuals in Malaysian Security Discourse and Practice

George May
University of Birmingham

This paper will look at two competing narratives pertaining to irregular migrants in Malaysia, arguing that securitization of irregular migrants has inhibited the development of mechanisms for combatting trafficking in persons (TIP). While perceptions of undocumented migrants as a security threat are pervasive, a subset of individuals in this category who have been illegally trafficked – mostly women and children – are often depicted as victims whose human security is threatened. Very limited progress, however, has been made towards the instigation of institutional mechanisms for combatting TIP and efforts have focused narrowly on sex trafficking, while largely ignoring labour trafficking. The paper argues that continued securitization of irregular migration has seriously inhibited the establishment of effective counter-TIP mechanisms and cooperative partnerships between the state and civil society organizations in Malaysia. The existentially threatening aura securitized threats acquire means that simultaneous protection of individuals within a securitized societal sector is unlikely to be a priority for states. Moreover, securitization of the ‘migrant problem’ has precluded viable solution of endemic corruption and border mismanagement that fuel irregular migration into the country. The Malaysian government have also failed to cultivate partnerships with civil society organizations that constitute a vital element of the fight against TIP in other parts of the world. This has, furthermore, driven NGO’s that coordinate the care of TIP victims to mistrust state actors. In sum, the paper argues that while irregular migrants are portrayed and perceived as a security threat, TIP victims’ human security – particularly those outside of the sex trade – will likely be overlooked by the Malaysian state.



Paper 4: Youth in Transregional Flows – an ethnography of the changing trajectory of foodways among young migrants across Malaysia.

Fangfang Li
University of Barcelona/University of Amsterdam

Despite its brilliant achievement in economic development, Malaysia as a country in transition is still struggling with a series of severe health burdens – youth obesity is one of them. Obesity and its common health consequences (e.g. cardiovascular diseases) are known to be linked with one’s changed dietary choices and can intuitively lead to reduced quality of wellbeing of both individuals and societies. However, most studies on youth dietary change and its implications so far have merely relied on quantitative-oriented methods and little has been written on its connections with youth’s migratory trajectories in multi-element environments. This ethnography, with its primary concern rooted in dietary changes of rural-to-urban migrant youth from Segamat Malaysia, aims to provide a ground-breaking understanding of 1) how the initiation of youth’s dietary changes occur and progress over time and space; 2) how it interacts with factors at individual, household, community, societal and inter-generational levels; 3) how changes in roles, responsibilities and social relationships of the young in new environments suggest changes in their foodways; 4) What ‘social lives’ do foods, beverages and supplements have; and 5) what the roles of social policies, laws and public services play in shaping youth’s learning and practice of eating and drinking in Malaysia.