Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: What Now?
June 4, 2020
By Lawrence Surendra
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 4 2020 (IPS)
In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, the much-anticipated 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) of the WHO concluded without any major controversies or disagreements.
The landmark WHA resolution to bring the world together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, co-sponsored by more than 130 countries, and adopted by consensus, called for the intensification of efforts to control the pandemic, and for equitable access to and fair distribution of all essential health technologies and products to combat the virus.
Basically, a message that any vaccines produced should not be privatised by corporate capitalist greed.
Pandemics have been with us for a very long time. Medical science and public health focus on infectious diseases spanning the pre-antibiotic and post-antibiotic era, has tried to keep pace with the newer forms and zoonotic variations and shown us that reducing the emergence of a virus to a single source is futile.
The eminent flu epidemiologist, late Dr Louis Weinstein, commenting on the 1968 Hong Kong Flu epidemic that appeared simultaneously all over the world, observed that such epidemics do not spread from a single source. Humans have constantly battled with new infectious diseases.
Post COVID, anti-bacterial treatments for what are called ‘sick-car’ and ‘sick building’ syndromes are now flourishing. Though, however much we sanitise and keep our immediate environment clean, will that help in the fight against infections and infectious diseases?
Dr. Zinsser in , ‘Rats, Lice and History’, wrote in 1935, “ Infectious disease is one of the few genuine adventures left in the world … however secure and well-regulated civilized life may become, bacteria, protozoa, viruses, infected fleas, lice, ticks, mosquitoes and bedbugs will always lurk in the shadows ready to pounce when neglect, poverty, famine or war lets down the defences….
About the only genuine sporting proposition that remains unimpaired by the relentless domestication of a once free-living human species is the war against these ferocious little fellow creatures which lurk in the dark corners and stalk us in the bodies of rats, mice and all kinds of domestic animals; which fly and crawl with the insects and waylay us in our food and drink and even in our love”.
His work was considered a classic with the NYTimes calling it, “one of the wisest and wittiest books that have come off the presses”.
Looking for the source of the viruses is a distraction in understanding the causes. The destruction of our natural environment, clearly, has been the major cause for the pandemics that humanity has faced.
COVID 19 forcefully brought this truth home; while forcing a lock down on the activities of humans, it allowed the natural world to breathe again.
Rene Dubos, the pioneer of Ecological Medicine, who was awarded a Pulitzer in 1969 for his classic work, ‘So Human an Animal: How We Are Shaped by Surroundings and Events’, brought to us long back the connection between the state of our natural environment and our pathologies.
Writing in the Scientific American (1955) an article titled, “Second Thoughts on the Germ Theory’, he wrote, “During the first phase of the germ theory the property of virulence was regarded as lying within the microbes themselves. Now virulence is coming to be thought of as ecological. Whether man lives in equilibrium with microbes or becomes their victim depend upon the circumstances under which he encounters them”.
He was the one who coined the expression, “think globally, act locally” which nowadays is used like a fashion statement, without knowing the origins or the deep philosophical significance Rene Dubos attached to an expression that he first coined. The current COVID world has forcefully shown the importance of “thinking globally and acting locally”.
Where do we go from here in managing this global public health crisis and repairing the relationship of humans to the planet and its sentient beings? The question ‘What now?” is posed as a query for action, for a road map, in the way, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation Report ‘What Now: Another Development ‘
posed it in 1975.
Another Development: Approaches and Strategies was launched in 1976, as an independent contribution to the Seventh Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Development and International Cooperation. With a print run of 100,000 copies in six languages, the Report came to play a significant role in the development debate during the following years.
The ‘What Now Report’ was envisaged as a “tribute to the man, Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary-General 1953–1961 and one of the last century’s most remarkable international leaders, who more than any other, gave the United Nations the authority which the world (now) needs more than ever”.
The five principles of ‘Another Development’ in 1975 stated, “Need based – Development geared to meeting human needs, material and non-material; Endogenous – stemming from the heart of each society which defines in sovereignty its values and the vision of its future;
Self-reliant – implying that each society relies primarily on its own strength and resources in terms of its members’ energies and its natural and cultural environment;
Ecologically sound – utilising rationally the resources of the bio-sphere in full awareness of the potential of local ecosystems as well as the global and local outer limits imposed on present and future generations.
And based on Structural transformation – so as to realise the conditions required for self-management and participation in decision making by all those affected by it, from the rural or urban community to the world as a whole, without which the goals above could not be achieved.
These five principles are even more relevant today and could be the new Panchseel of a new commitment we should make for mutual co-existence between peoples and between humans and nature.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, delivering the prestigious Dag Hammarskjold Uppsala Lecture on Earth Day in 2018 and titled, ‘Twenty-first century challenges and the enduring wisdom of Dag Hammarskjöld’, stated that, “The problems of our time are global problems that can only be solved with global solutions”.
Pointing in his lecture that Hammarskjold, “was a man of culture”, Guterres said, “that allowed him to have a universal view, a universal perspective; to consider diversity as a richness; to be able to understand others; to promote tolerance; to promote dialogue and to find solutions for the most difficult and intricate diplomatic problems of his time”.
“This is what, indeed, is sometimes lacking today” and that, “the proof that this translated into a vision of the world that remains as accurate today as during his lifetime is very well captured” he said in what Hammarskjold had said then, ‘Our world of today [of course many decades ago] is more than ever before, one world. The weakness of one is the weakness of all, and the strength of one – not the military strength, but the real strength, the economic and social strength, the happiness of people – is the strength of all. Through various developments that are familiar to all, world solidarity has been forced upon us. This is no longer the choice of enlightened spirits, it’s something which those whose temperament leads them in the direction of isolationism have also to accept’.
Almost five decades later, organizations with the history, prestige and authority like the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation are uniquely placed to draw upon the wisdom of the past and cooperatively navigate Earth and humanity to a safe place.
Reviving the spirit of ‘What Now’ as the new Panchsheel that works beyond nation states and the strong men that lead these nations states lies the future.
The Foundation needs urgently to take initiatives, using the current crisis as an opportunity to create new global institutional platforms for solidarity based on the principle of ‘planetary citizens’ away from the hyper-nationalists of the present who in history, have “goose stepped” us into disasters.
New generations are looking for such answers. The world must move away from the strong-man politics of men who are also no ‘men of culture’.
Former US President Barack Obama in his Nelson Mandela speech in South Africa, commenting on strong man politics dominating the major large nations of the world, said, “Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretence of democracy are maintained—the form of it—but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning”.
Fortunately, both in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere we now have women in power who are bringing a different quality to national and global leadership.
From Asia, and in small countries like South Korea articulate women of such clarity and depth of experience in international leadership, like Madam Kang, Kyung-wha Korea’s Foreign Minister, are leading with such finesse the Foreign Policy of a nation wedged between big powers. These resources of leadership need to be harnessed for the global good.
The theme for World Environment Day (Friday June 5), is ‘Time for Nature’. Humanity has ‘Time for Nature. Nation states and strong men who lead them have no time for nature which is why we are in the mess we are in and why we need ‘Another Development’ led by this new generation of women leaders currently managing national and global affairs with such wisdom.
Lawrence Surendra is a Chemical Engineer and Environmental Economist and has been a Scholar-in Residence at the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden
“Before there can be truth there must be a true man”– Chuang-Tzu
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