Global thinking and local action on coronavirus

The biggest lesson of COVID-19 is that individuals and nations cannot protect only themselves, we are all in this together


Globalisation is credited with raising over two billion people in the world out of poverty. The money to pay for all the fancy houses, mobile phones and traffic jams in Nepal can be traced back to Nepalis who can find work all over the world.

Globalisation is double-edged and has its downsides: inequality, supply chains that ignore environmental costs, and the increased worldwide mobility that also makes people vulnerable to pandemics.

Global challenges therefore require global solutions. COVID-19, the climate emergency, human trafficking cannot be addressed unless we think and act globally. Unfortunately, the costs and benefits of globalisation are not equitably distributed and hence in times of crisis, the response has been to fall back on nationalism, point fingers, or to turn our backs on the problem.

With its own COVID-19 pandemic stabilising, Beijing decided to send a team and a planes full of equipment to help out Italy. There should be more of this, instead of ostracising entire continents as some countries have tried to do.

The solution is complex because the virus must be stopped while minimising the impact on national and global economies. This is tricky. Any attempt to control the spread of the disease adversely affects the market, which in turn is needed to supply lifesaving drugs, test kits, masks, medical suits, and disinfectants. How do we do one and stop the other? Does the world need two independent systems?

Read also: Nepal's economy already weak, takes direct hit, Sanghamitra Subba

Further, in a globalised world our response to the same pandemic is different in different countries. What worked in China may not work in the UK. The Italian approach seems to be very different from the Trump approach. It would be good to see leaders talking to each other more so that the general public at least gets a coherent message.

When businesses make profit, they give themselves dividends. But when COVID-19 plunges them in the red, governments are supposed to step up and bail them out with money from taxpayers. What percentage of the profit and the tax they pay needs to be diverted to build resilience and a response mechanism by the time the next global crisis hits?

It is not enough to say, “I pay taxes and now it is someone else’s problem”. Corruption, over dependence on foreign aid and indifference always seems to come around to bite us. Being resilient means the ability to bounce back quickly to the same state as when the crisis began. What are the lessons from the earthquake and Indian Blockade in 2015, and now a pandemic? Right now it does not look like we are capable of learning.

In a globalised world, the media has much more leverage than global agencies. CNN declared the pandemic before the WHO. And COVID-19 seems to discriminate against certain age groups, but not between rich and poor. Global finance agencies and governments suddenly found themselves loosening their purse because the virus did not spare the rich, celebrities or head of governments and health ministers. These agencies need to do a bit of soul searching as to why diseases that kill the poor cannot be sufficiently funded.

The global marketplace is where competitively produced goods and services are bought and sold. When we face a pandemic, should a country like India be allowed to ban export of life-saving drugs to Nepal?  And why is the Nepal government not going after shopkeepers who hoard and sell medical masks in the black market? How about coming down hard on those hoarding fuel?

Hand washing has worked in Nepal for containing typhoid and other infections long before COVID-19 came along. The epidemic may actually help make hand washing a habit.

The world may be global, but we need to think local and make ourselves safe, as well as ensure the safety of those around us. The biggest lesson of COVID-19 is that individuals and nation states cannot protect only themselves, we are all in this together.

Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc and writes this exclusive fortnightly column ½ Full for Nepali Times.

Anil Chitrakar


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