The coronavirus crisis has exposed the global inefficiency of various governance mechanisms. It was not just Europe which looks in utter disarray but the rest of the world including China where the virus sprang up. Bangladesh of course is on the brink of disaster as well and many factors are playing a role in this including historical tolerance of low efficiency.
It is not just Bangladesh which is in deep chaos but South Asia in general. India, the biggest player in the region is looking no better and Pakistan is already in the firm grip of corona. The crisis, one of a kind in several centuries and potentially bigger than the last pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1920, has exposed the limits of current governance patterns. They are not adequate to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. This is true for the world as well as Bangladesh.
Not everyone can deal with it
The virus is exceptional for the speed with which it came and at which it transmits and put everyone off guard. That includes the incubator of the virus, China, who have the dubious distinction of incubated viruses before. But we still know very little about how it was managed in round one. What we know is that extreme measures were put in place, an astounding quantum of resources were mobilized and the entire system was geared up. But China has a system, most others don’t.
As Europe is showing, it doesn’t have the coping capacity to match China but also can’t adequately take care of itself in general. It’s using outmoded systems which are more pro-rich than pro-ordinary people. As an ageing socio-economic region, it’s obviously vulnerable to such rapid/quick onset disasters and the consequences were tragic but inevitable.
We have also seen the shift of the epicentres and the spreading stages. It began with China, moved to Italy, is shifting to other zones of Europe including the UK and may go towards the US if not already there. And then it must be South Asia’s turn. South Asia is a very vulnerable zone. But it’s not a country by country problem but one affecting all the countries. If there is a common trait, it’s poverty. If there is a common indicator, it’s overpopulation. Together they make bad news.
However, the capacity of response is still unknown though all the governments are being blamed for sluggard responses and lack of capacity. Public health has never been the priority of the ruling class in the region so it’s only natural that price has to be paid. However, people’s capacity to withstand disaster is higher as disasters are common and slowly the world is coming forward to tackle it. One should face the fact that no one really knows what’s going to happen.
The worst hit will be the poor
Mid march to mid-May will be the test of hell and many will fall sick and of them many will die. They are the vulnerable particularly the elderly and a society based on family contacts and supports, the impact of this will be more than the mere death count. Many of those who will fall sick will survive but their health will take a big hit in the long run. Of these many will be young people. That will be the added dimension of the crisis. But the most raging and cruel part may well be that this epidemic in South Asia where inequity rules the roost, the poor will be worst hit.
That means the poor, denied, slum dwellers, rural poor etc will be the primary victims. It will expose once more the face of development as we have it and raise the issue of its authenticity as a tool for collective development.
Horrible as it may sound, people will soon forget. In 1991, almost a lakh died in a single night in April due to a cyclone. The famine of 1943 in Bengal is forgotten which killed millions. 2020-21 will be forgotten too as history shows.
The big changes?
But some changes are inevitable which will impact on all. The world will change dramatically and China’s ascendance which the West hoped would be halted by the epidemic will continue as it’s the West’s capacity which seems depleted more. The impact of 3 trillion dollars loss will affect the West most.
Democracy for its own sake and it’s in inherent elitist structure will decline in popularity as the Asian dominant cultures as many will seek to learn from China on state management. People will long for security more than votes and even in the West more questions will be asked than ever before. It will mean a search for indigenous forms for ‘participatory governance’ rather than electoral power changing ‘political democracy’ that is not linked to governance. People will seek to create alternate power structures where such mechanisms fail and dependence on elected governments could see a decline.
However, the biggest message could well be that nature is far more powerful than thought before. Mother nature holds the card and the people must learn to co-exist. While it may mean greater interest in related issue including climate change and rational consumerism, the ability to create such a sustainable future may well not be easy to manufacture.
For Bangladesh, its pro-rich network based governance system may not be enough to continue without serious mishaps. The decline of remittance income will put a lot of pressure on the economy not mentioning rmg. One is not sure if given the display of current capacity, how long our systems can continue to produce the continuity that it has till now. The world is more uncertain than ever before and a far more pro-poor, pro-public health and pro-equity functions must take precedence over high profile projects including in infrastructure if survival in round two is to be ensured.