Human security is a concept that dates back to the Enlightenment. Various strains of meaning, spanning a focus on individual rights and a preoccupation with territorial integrity of states, have accompanied its use in many settings. In the last 25 years, the term has increasingly been applied to political, social, and economic inputs required to create security for individuals and communities. Most recently there has been growing interest in assessing the usefulness of this concept in the design of policies to provide relief and stabilization in areas emerging from war and conflict.
In that transitional context this paper argues for a new definition of human security based on identifying those factors that protect and promote human well being through time. This argument builds on the capabilities analysis of Sen and Dreze, incorporates the vulnerability model described by Webb, and employs the psychosocial needs framework of Amoo. Noting that the provision of basic material supports is essential but not sufficient, the definition of human security advanced here insists on the additional importance, for individuals and communities, of fulfilling three basic psychosocial dimensions: a sense of home and safety; constructive family and social supports; and acceptance of the past and a positive grasp of the future. These three psychosocial dimensions (referred to in shorthand as home, community, and time) are evaluated in a number of settings, primarily in Africa. Suggestions are provided, based upon this concept, for humanitarian efforts in refugee and immediate post–conflict settings.
The paper further argues that ways of measuring human security along these three dimensions are more easily approached through the use of negative indices, or threats to human security. The negative indices proposed here are social dislocation (for home), dynamic inequality (for community relationships), and high discount rate (for positive sense of the future). It is noted that further methodological effort is needed to refine the metrics to be used in these indices. Whether this concept and its proposed indices could prove useful in identifying trends in human security (or threats to human security) in the immediate post (or pre) conflict setting will require further empirical work, through retrospective case studies and prospective observation and analysis.