A Pandemic of change?

Time to collectively re-think

By Munmun Majumdar

“The solution of present-day problems lie in the re-establishment of a harmonious relationship between man and nature. To keep this relationship permanent we will have to digest the definition of real development: development is synonymous with culture. When we sublimate nature in a way that we achieve peace, happiness, prosperity and, ultimately, fulfilment along with satisfying our basic needs, we march towards culture.” Sunderlal Bahuguna
For a comprehensive understanding of security, the traditional understanding of security that focused on countries and their militaries protecting their sovereignty non-military threats such as global pandemics, climate change, food security etc. that threaten the wellbeing and livelihoods of people, communities, and the environment have been incorporated. 28 May, marks World Hunger Day, when the world contemplates on how millions of food insecure people can see an end to their plight. 05 June marks the observance of the World Environment Day to spread awareness about the threat to the environment. They are indeed fine examples of non-traditional security for protection of people and environment. Similarly, the challenges in national COVID-19 responses and the humanitarian needs induced by the pandemic remind us that public health emergencies deserve equal attention as much as to the consequences of climate change. This unprecedented time therefore can be used for a close examination of the impact of human activity on the natural world that could help to improve the ability to predict not only global environmental changes but also the potential cases transmission of disease from animals to humans etc. It could save millions of human lives, and economic losses, going forward.
Although the novelty of the Corona virus caught the world by surprise the warning about climate change and its outcome are known for long. The coronavirus has shown that even the rich and powerful are not immune to the infection even if they have access to the best health care services. In the same manner climate disaster could be as far-reaching and inclusive despite all the facilities to protect people. Yet the lack of urgent action to protect the environment is inexplicable to say the least.
In the face of pressing public health crisis economies have been squeezed compounding existing socio-economic inequalities, generating new vulnerabilities and escalating levels of risk. Since the infection risk does not discriminate nor pays any regard to socio-economic status etc., curbing its spread becomes everybody’s business. It thus gives legitimacy to bold and swift interventions even if it means that such measures would disproportionately affect certain groups more than others. The resulting economic slowdown although not completely voluntary has cleared skies and purified rivers in many parts of the world. The environmental repercussions however, have not been intentional either. But for now, these positive changes are enough to hope of a better future. More importantly, it points out that the manner in which economic activities are being pursued in particular are responsible for environmental degradation and that the current approaches to economic growth needs to be rethought to avert a climate crisis.
The closing down of most business, stay home arrangement, cutting down on travel, fine dining, shopping, may not be exactly either enviable or enjoyable, but it certainly does not kill. This is what the COVID-19 measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus instructs and expounds. But once the Pandemic is eventually over, economies will get rolling again. The attempt will be to fall back on development plans for economic recovery from the unprecedented economic damages that the pandemic has inflicted. And many of the immediate positive effects such as reduced air pollution, will likely reverse when the world goes back to business as usual. Have we thought about the correct method of disposal of medical waste, masks, gloves etc which, have increased manifold and the possible ways to avoid long term environmental disasters? Will we take a cue from the COVID 19 experience that has amply demonstrated that the consumption driven economic growth will need some amount of rethinking? About the urgent need to move away from the practice of using natural resources to the point of exhaustion? and make way instead for the environment and achieve a balance with nature? Although COVID-19 should be the catalyst for adopting the green agenda however for more than one reason there is every possibility that the green agenda will get weakened instead.
It is a well-known fact by now that the pandemic has exposed gaps and frailties in how we manage a global health crisis. The fight against COVID-19 highlights the obvious vulnerability of critical medical supplies and the role humanitarian aid can play in enabling better national and global response. While the COVID-19 global outbreak has limited freedom of movement it has also led to irregular migrants. Again, women, who make up the bulk of informal workers globally, have also been the hardest hit during the pandemic. Are we paying attention to either the issue of migrant labors or to the gender inequalities especially in terms of women’s economic, food and individual securities?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people. How gender inequalities, disabilities, socio-economic, race etc. play out- for instance covid spreading among communities having to deal with natural calamities, must find place. Therefore, in many ways the COVID-19 experience provides valuable lessons for climate change responses even though climate change does not project the same sense of urgency as COVID 19 that places human life above all other considerations. Undoubtedly, the recovery from COVID-19 is going to be a lengthy process. A systemic review of current policies and structures from the local to the national level is needed.
It is evident that the absence of a well thought out preparedness, planning and policy responses can easily escalate into a food crisis, upsetting peoples’ wellbeing and security. Hence, planned policy measures must be taken so that pandemic driven hardships brought about by abrupt disruptions are never repeated. The global fall out of the covid-19 pandemic explains the concerns about resilience-particularly for the vulnerable, has become critical just as the need to invest in resilience measures before another catastrophe strikes whether in the form of another virus, or cyclone or food shortage. Therefore, it is important for the Governments and citizens to work collectively. In this the voice of the youth and their participation is critical in working together to bring about the pandemic of change.
(The writer is Prof. Dept of Political Science North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Email: [email protected])

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