July 31st, 2018

What the Tham Luang Cave rescue taught us about collaboration

In an ever protectionist, nationalist world characterised by trade wars and divisions in regional institutions, it can be easy to lose sight of hope for a truly cooperative international community. 

It was against this backdrop that the power of compassion and collaboration shone through as 23 countries came together to support Thailand’s miraculous rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from the flooded Tham Luang Cave.

As the world watched on, the rescue team, including many Australians – among them anaesthetist Richard Harris – displayed astonishing teamwork, resilience and ingenuity in a rapidly changing and highly stressful environment.  

Disasters have a truly unique way of bringing us together as a human race. I have witnessed this first hand on a number of occasions including in Aceh after the Asian Tsunami, Pakistan after the earthquake and Flowerdale after the Victorian bushfires. In each and every instance, many previously disparate people joined together, sharing all that they had to support others they had never met.

This power of the human spirit to rise above borders and biases to help one and other is lived out every day by millions of people volunteering right around the world. From remote villages to bustling cities, they freely give their time, expertise and experience for the sake of the common good.

Volunteering has been highlighted by the United Nations’ Secretary General as essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the one global plan of action we have for people, planet and prosperity. Included are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) endorsed by all 193 member states, including Australia. And these goals apply to all member states, not just developing countries.

As Ministers Bishop and Fierravanti-Wells well noted “the Sustainable Development Goals are a true global blueprint for a sustainable future for our planet, our communities, our families and our economies.”

This month, the Australian government presents its Voluntary National Review, detailing our progress towards achieving the SDGs. While it is great to see it explicitly recognise the critical contribution of our domestic and international volunteers, much more needs to be done. Regrettably, this week, the SDG Index saw placed Australia 37 in the world, down from 26 last year.

What we need to see is that the future of our species and planet has the same urgency as a disaster, because in reality, it does. We must take personal and collective ownership of the SDGs because we only have one globally agreed plan. There is no Plan B.

Paul Bird