Time to plant olive trees

Dr Bhavneet Kaur
The legend says, Noah sent a dove when the flood waters receded. The bird came back with an olive leaf, to show that the Biblical flood was over and that life had returned to Earth.
Since times immemorial, dove has been used as a symbol of love and the renewal of life. The ancient Greeks believed that an olive branch meant abundance and drove the evil away. According to some others, an olive leaf signifies peace because olive trees, because of their slow growth, are not cultivated during war time and therefore considered as peace-time trees.
As we are battling against the COVID-19 pandemic, the term world peace should create a new dimension for all. Building resilience, helping each other to recover better and transforming our world into more sustainable, safer and healthier option must remain our core objective.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Peace is “The road to a lasting peace: Leveraging the power of youth for peace and security”. Observed every year on September 21, World Peace Day also called as International day of Peace is a United Nations designated day which was first established in the year 1981. Celebrated worldwide, shaping peace together remains the common goal.
However, the efforts on World peace have suffered a series of setbacks during the last two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data has revealed that between January 2020 and April 2021, pandemic-related violent incidents were recorded in at least 158 countries. These incidents ranged from individual attacks aimed at people of Asian descent, various forms of other abuse to anti-lockdown demonstrations that turned violent. In all, there were around 5,000 such incidents, according to the Global Peace Index 2021.
To rethink the nature of risk and to understand the multidimensional aspect behind the global crises like COVID-19 remains the need of the hour. Characterized by the increased uncertainty and rapid change, this threat requires new approaches along the human security lines as the fact is that other existential risks have still not gone away – such as climate change, geopolitical conflict and nuclear conflict.
Currently, despite billions of dollars being invested worldwide, vast resources are misallocated, wasted, or poorly sequenced. It thus becomes important that peace-building, development and humanitarian approaches deployed to address COVID-19 avoid the trap of only addressing the health crisis symptomatically but also understand the structural underpinnings of conflict exacerbated by such pandemic. The unique opportunity offered by the COVID-19 pandemic is thus to seek out and invest in the capacities and resources for transformative resilience embedded within communities and societies dealing with this multidimensional crisis. To do this, conflict sensitive and peace responsive approaches that take a long-term approach is the key.
A crisis which is treated as a purely health phenomenon, and which is analyzed exclusively by reference to public health epidemiological models, might unsurprisingly only seek solutions in remedial medical measures. Reference should therefore be made to its myriad manifestations in the pre-existing patterns to avoid the resultant potential for future conflict. There is a need thus to move beyond palliative, survivalist, or remedial forms of resilience towards transformative resilience.
What is transformative resilience? ‘Transformative Resilience’ seeks to address sources of risk and to integrate the resources and innovative opportunities for peace at individual, household, community, institutional, and societal levels. What initially was largely looked as a health crisis ultimately exaggerated other interrelated socio-economic issues, mass forced resignations, unemployment, nutritional abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse and other conflict driven manifestations in the society!
We must leverage the practical constraints of the moment. COVID-19 has almost entirely affected international travel, interrupted much trade and strained the wealthiest resources. If responses are to be transformative and resilience enhancing, they need to also be build on existing systems, relationships and capacities. A renewed focus on local leadership and societal inclusion must be implemented to combat this global crisis. This also means that internationally developed templates can also be applied where appropriate and workable.
Based on the understanding that COVID-19 is an uncertain stressor, a collective approach should be based upon the three most pertinent axes to bring peace and health in the society. Firstly, strengthening social cohesion between communities while maintaining the social distancing module; secondly, strengthening state-society relationships, and thirdly following the principles of inclusion.
In this ongoing war against the virus, this process of collective inclusion may seem slow at first but when the Dove returns flying to spread the message of love and peace, it will surely ask us then, “Have we planted enough olive trees?”
(The author is Member Indian Doctors for Peace & Development)