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Punishment it was. Punishment it will be. Pandemic was almost a revenge of nature on human arrogance. As the World Environment Day on 5th of June states “Make peace with nature”, that is the essence of the pandemic. Viruses are Zoonotic diseases transferred from animals to humans. With man-making encroachments on the natural habitat, animals will retaliate in human habitat. This virus was a penalty of human containment. It attacked the crux of man being a social animal. All social activities that keep human beings not just living but alive became lethal. Meetings were Zoomed. Hugging was doomed. Greetings were banned. Physical warmth and comfort became hazardous. Friends started avoiding you. Cousins started excusing themselves. At the end of the day you were confined to your four walls with the same few faces and the same chores that drove people up the wall.

Everybody prayed for vaccines. The prayers were heard. Vaccines are here. But is that the end of this nightmare? Not really. Or maybe for some. But for a very large majority the aftermath has already started. While it is better to be alive, it is difficult to live without sustenance. When we get out of fighting fires of the virus the ashes of poverty and hunger will scorch human existence. This is true for many underdeveloped countries. What is more frightening is that while the developed world used to dole out aid and opportunities for struggling economies, they themselves are fighting to remain developed. That means that there is going to be a crunch everywhere pushing those on the edge below the poverty line. The image of emaciated Sub Saharan people suffering from famine is no longer territorially located. We saw huge lines outside food banks in America and we saw people lying sick, hungry and dying in India. These images are horrendous and need emergency measures. As we enter the second year of Corona lessons are loud and clear:

  1. Nature will strike back - Environment is more important than entertainment. While a lot is said about environment, little is done. During Trump’s time despite knowing that a pandemic was due budgets were cut down and we all know how the USA walked out of the Kyoto protocol and the Paris agreement. President Joe Biden’s attempt to increase budgets for environment is facing stiff opposition from the Republicans as they feel this money should be spent on the economy. The closure of the entertainment industry is a bigger issue for them rather than the closure of healthy air and oxygen. The biggest lesson is that trillions of dollars pumped into Hollywood and the Warner Brothers will not be able to save them from an errant virus transferred from animals to humans. Environment has to be a top priority not only in statements but in budgets, in projects, in action.

  2. Humility over arrogance - If ever there were case studies of leadership styles leading to success or failure it is during the pandemic. Interestingly, three big powers of their region – the USA, India and Brazil – all suffered repeatedly. These countries were global and regional giants. They failed in the first wave as number of deaths and infected cases soared. While other countries learned from the first wave and managed to contain the second wave, all three of them let the virus go out of control again. The common feature in them was the arrogance of the leadership. Trump, Modi and Bolsonaro all displayed arrogance in accepting the danger and were too reactive and too late in their decision making. Modi gloated success in January 2021 of containing the virus and the arrogance made him blind to the second wave. The second wave devastated India and the scenes of bodies strewn across river shores and on streets were harrowing. The economic cost is still being counted. Around 230 million Indians fell into poverty, defined as living on less than 375 Indian rupees per day. In the first wave last year around 100 million people lost their jobs. In the second wave more than 7.3 million jobs were lost in April alone.

  3. Everybody or nobody - The Darwin theory of survival of the fittest has been challenged in this pandemic. The lesson is that the virus will attack from the weakest part of the human chain but it will then destroy all parts. When World Health Organisation (WHO) chief laments the selfishness of rich nations on hoarding vaccine for themselves, he is not just talking of being noble but being sensible. The virus mutates as it ravages a nation. The Indian variant is now reaching everywhere and vaccines may not be able to neutralize new variants. When the USA was the last to offer help to India it was again giving time for the virus to reach everywhere. Banning flights, quarantining people is just a stop-gap before virus seeps through.

Pakistan has done remarkably well in comparison. In all three waves the government met every single day in the NCOC (National Command and Operation Committee) to see the data and make proactive decisions. Prime Minister’s strategy of balancing lives and livelihoods through smart lockdown has resulted in not only containing the virus, building up of health capacity, but an economy that is growing at 4% while India’s is shrinking at 7.3%. However, the battle goes on. There are three actions that the world must take:

1 Develop country and global strategies of food - Time for the world to develop a forum for food provision to countries that are going to have more people die of hunger than COVID-19. The World Food Programme is not enough. The G7 needs to create a public-private partnership for support for food in poor countries. This partnership regionally may develop local companies who then run these programmes under foundations like Bill and Milinda Gates, etc.

2 Create virtual quota of global jobs like GAVI - Just as GAVI is the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, you need a GAJE – Global Alliance for Jobs and Employment. This alliance takes the route of work from home trend during the pandemic. All major corporations in the world set a quota for jobs in countries which have been badly affected by the virus. Focus has to shift from jabs to jobs.

3 Green financing, green industries, green cities - Finally, there needs to be a GGE i.e, a Green Global Emergency. Every bit of debt, industrialization and development needs to be tied with incentive for green usage. Writing off debts, taxes and liabilities for more green contributions is the way forward. These green incentives are necessary to encourage the world to prevent another disastrous pandemic from happening.

Most of all it is a humbling moment for humanity. Remember humans by encroaching their habitat forced animals to come out on streets. As a retaliation the animals forced humans to go off street and get caged in homes. According to Margaret Mead, “You cannot have a society if you destroy the environment”.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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