Rayhan Ahmed Topader:
Pandemics are for the most part disease outbreaks that become widespread as a result of the spread of human-to-human infection.1 Beyond the debilitating, sometimes fatal, consequences for those directly affected, pandemics have a range of negative social, economic and political consequences. These tend to be greater where the pandemic is a novel pathogen, has a high mortality and/or hospitalization rate and is easily spread. According to Lee Jong-wook, former Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), pandemics do not respect internatio- nal borders.2 Therefore, they have the potential to weaken many societies, political systems and economies simultaneously.The catastrophe triggered by COVID-19 has spread fear like no other event in recent memory. It has put the spotlight on indecisive leadership, bumbling governments, and misguided priorities. Right now, the daunting task is to stop the spread of the virus, and helping the sick and the needy.But few occurrences offer more potent ground for a rethinking of what is human security. That security lies in reducing poverty, providing growth, and opportunity, access to education, affordable health care, a cleaner environment, and human rights. The crisis offers a chance to fashion human security in the lives of the people and not in the weapons that states have.
In short, improved conditions for the human family.The pandemic has affected domestic politics too, contrasting state security and fundamental rights. Ensuring one should not abridge the other. But one has witnessed the abridgment of certain fundamental rights, particularly freedom of speech. Ours is a case in point, where the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) has been misused to curb all kinds of criticism against the government. Journalists have been put in custody, 37 of them in the last few months, and denied bail for publishing factual reports. Comments about government functionaries have been deemed as libellous and processed under the same act whose provisos are vague and open to misapplication. To quote the Sampadak Parishad, statistics show that more journalists, teachers, and intellectuals have been arrested under DSA than cyber criminals, especially in the last six months. In sum, the reactions to alleged fake news have been very intrusive and heavily disproportionate to the alleged offense. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression in parts of the Asia-Pacific during the Covid-19 crisis, primarily because, according to the statement, the relevant laws have been used in other contexts to deter legitimate speech, especially public debate, criticism of government policy and suppress freedom of expression.
In the time of rampant corruption, it’s the media that has kept the government and the people informed about how the pandemic is being handled as well as about the misuse and defalcation of government help meant for the poor. A Chinese soldier next to an Indian soldier at a border crossing. We cannot predict how many people would die by the time the world succeeds in fighting the virus effectively, but the effect, primarily on the international economy, is likely to last longer than we can imagine, particularly with so many developing countries being thrown over the edge. But, and this may sound rather cynical if not glib, what the virus has done is that it has played the role of an equaliser, treating both the affluent and advanced countries and the less developed and developing countries equally. Similar is the case also in Bangladesh where the rich and the poor have been affected equally, although the more affluent had better access to healthcare than the others. The crushing effect has rendered the same degree of helplessness to the powerful and not-so powerful countries. Also the economic forecast is bleak. According to IMF estimate, 170 countries will see their GDP per capita fall by the end of the year by about 3 percent, and that to, it admits, may be an optimistic forecast. And WTO sees trade possibly declining by between 13 percent and 32 percent. Some recovery is expected in 2021.
The virus has exposed some glaring limitations of the state, the state of governance for example, and a fragile healthcare system, particularly in countries like ours where one is not guaranteed appropriate and timely treatment. We seemed to have overlooked the fact that right to health is a fundamental right and not a dole given out at the discretion of the state. And of course the economy, which has taken a bad hit, particularly the informal economy on which a great number of poor are dependent in countries like ours. Interestingly, some countries with less pluralistic regimes and societies appear to have been more successful in effecting those strict control measures which helped in curbing the transmission of the disease; that is the first step if the virus has to be contained if not eliminated altogether. But be that as it may, what the crisis has also shown is that bad leadership yields to the virus, democratic or not, more so when leaders disregard science and put politics over people’s health. In the two countries most heavily infected, the US and Brazil, the virus has exposed this rather pitiable aspect. And the most important aspect that the pandemic has brought to the forefront, something that we have restricted to words speeches and essays only, and bothered little to implement, is human security. What the pandemic has shown is that a country may have power to rule the seven seas yet be so pathetically lacking when it comes to providing adequate medical equipment to combat the disease.
In the realm of international politics we have witnessed the opening up of a new chapter in which we witness the “instrumentalisation” of the pandemic. Even before anyone could ascertain the allegations, we have seen blame and counter blame thrown at one another. China has already been put in the dock, the US, the UK and Australia losing no time to ask for reparations from China. The US has intensified its pressure on Iran by imposing even harsher sanctions on it. The recent border clash between China and India stems from, some contend, geopolitical compulsions. Adding to uncertainty is the US defence secretary’s statement that the US is reviewing its global troop deployment to ensure it is “postured appropriately” to counter the growing Chinese military threat to countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This is another instance of the pandemic offering an opportunity to the US to warm up farther to India on the excuse of providing economic dole to India for the post pandemic rehabilitation.This question is legitimate but neglects the discussion that has flowed from the health security movement since the 1990s. Today, debates concerning what should follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are primarily focused on the promotion of universal health care as a core goal.10 In 2007, the Oslo Ministerial Declaration by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, France, Indonesia, Norway, Senegal, South Africa.
Also Thailand suggested 10 implementation priorities which included the marriage of health security with health equality: a global partnership for overcoming both structural and economic barriers to development and health is fundamental for reaching the MDGs and reducing vulnerabilities to neglected and emerging infectious diseases.The effort to improve human security needs a merging of resources. It requires a common try and united fight rather than every nation is for itself. It is unlikely, though that altruistic motives will suddenly drive elites who control the global agenda to change the irrational priorities so cruelly exposed by the pandemic. The main reason for this is, of course, is that it would mean a reduction in their monopoly on power. Our collective challenge is to find the political means to challenge the entrenched status quo to have a safer world.
Writer and Columnist