Dr. Frederick Burkle of Harvard University spoke Thursday at the Baker Center on future humanitarian crises related to public health.
"Everything is globalized now," Burkle, part of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, said. "The 'them' and 'us' lines have been blurred, and we now we must come up with global solutions to our problems."
Burkle's talk was sponsored by the Global Nursing Program in UT's Department of Public Health. Susan Speraw, the director of the Global Nursing Program at UT, met Burkle at a conference, and they became great friends. He first spoke at UT five years ago.
"He has been such a tremendous asset to our program," Speraw said. "He meets with the students and offers valuable insight into humanitarian issues."
In his talk, Burkle outlined some public health crises that he thinks the college-age generation will face in the coming years, including conflict, biodiversity crises, rapid unsustainable urbanization and climate change.
"The public health infrastructure of water, food, electricity and medical care collapses in the first ten days to two weeks of a conflict," Burkle said. "If we take the protective lid off, we get a lot of problems."
One of these problems is civilian deaths. In Sudan between 1983 and 2002, two million people died. Only 3 percent of these were battle-related.
"There really is no such thing as 'post conflict,'" Burkle said. "The conflict stays because weaponry and intimidation remain, the ecosystem is unrestored and infectious disease is rampant and not monitored."
He added that 47 percent of countries return to conflict within ten years; this number rises to 60 percent or more in Africa, a fact that is largely due to the famine, crime and poverty that often arise during war.
However, Burkle emphasized that health alone doesn't have the answer.
"The solution lies in multidisciplinary research," Burkle said. "We need economists, anthropologists, doctors, scientists. No one subject can solve all of the world's problems."
Burkle also stressed the need for humanitarian aid.
"People have a right to humanitarian assistance, and we have a duty to provide this assistance," Burkle said. "Unfortunately, many other countries see humanitarian aid as a pretext for occupation or an alibi for western domination."
The importance of these issues to current teens and young adults was also a relevant part of his discussion.
"Your generation knows that your productive years will be spent in a globalized world," Burkle said. "You all have a part in this."
Speraw agrees with Burkle and uses some of these ideas in the way she runs the Global Nursing Program at UT.
"My purpose for this program is to train nurses and members of other disciplines who want to be leaders in global health disasters," Speraw said. "Everyone has a voice, and we work together to solve various problems."
Speraw also sees global knowledge as playing an important role in educating UT students.
"Part of UT's 'Ready for the World' campaign is that we as educators have an obligation to prepare students to be tomorrow's leaders," Speraw said. "We want to teach them how to interact in global situations and respect different opinions."