Updated: Jul 9
With COVID-19 making serious inroads globally, we have a life-time problem at hand. As we see countries coming together for the cause of humanity, the reigning global crisis has brought the Father of Economics, Adam Smith’s 18th century quote back in the reckoning:
“To feel much for others and better for ourselves, to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections constitute the perfection of human nature”.
This human nature may be tested soon since as, according to the IMF the world is now facing the harshest global economic fallout since the Great Depression in the 1930s with over 170 countries likely to experience negative per capita income growth due to the raging pandemic. The Great Depression was the worst worldwide economic downturn that lasted for 10 years and cleaned up millions of investors. However, the ensuing fallout may be much more devastating as we since few decades have been dominated by globalisation-phenomena. For instance, in India, contrary to earlier times when metropolitan cities used to be the main contributor to equity markets, trends have shifted as since years now small towns are playing a crucial role in the socioeconomic transformation and participation is across all socio-economic strata. Worldwide, 2 billion people work in the informal sector (mostly in emerging & developing economies) and are particularly at risk, a recent UN Report claims, adding that the COVID-19 crisis is already affecting tens of millions of informal workers. Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies. We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent, measures, could make the difference between survival and collapse, said the ILO Director-General. The arguments ultimately are building -and as expected- around reviving economy and not necessarily ecology, natural capital of ecosystem services and equitable benefits. Since far-reaching economic and social consequences have global impact, it is but obvious that there are already strong cross-border spill-over effects in trade, tourism and financial linkages (much of migrant labour have returned to native villages and countries, and transport and hospitality industry is flattened for now, and consequently also remittance economy that is oft the lifeline in rural areas is halted for now).
COVID-19 has locked us up and down. In fact, it has locked up -momentarily- our life, dreams, plans and prosperity, and even our arrogance and egos are under stress as reportedly even domestic violence has shown an upward surge. Biologists, economists, politicians, doctors, technologists, futurists, astrologers and spiritualists, one and all are coming out with daily analysis and projections on where we will head after addressing the current turmoil.
Justifiably there are a range of suggestions that are making rounds to look ahead of crises: Healthcare approach needs a redesign (Divya, our health strategist will address this in the next blog post); Transnational cooperation is inevitable; resilience building for future is the key, pumping trillion-dollar investments for reviving economic growth is imminent. Thus, a wide list of exploratory ideas is emerging. All may be valid singularly and mutually. In the sum-up of the aftermath scenario, many people may say that the world will not be the same post COVID 19. But equally, Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” may also stick, as human beings are the smartest when it comes to benefit from biological evolution outcomes, and human species-orientation on how to cash in this planet for self-purpose. It will be a futile exercise to assess the economic damage-fallout of the global crisis we are undergoing ‘quantitatively’ (let’s leave that to the economists!). There is no wisdom needed to project that current crisis has and will further lead to: mass unemployment, universal healthcare becoming a priority agenda and more, global and in-country travel sector changing its design, state budgets drying up and shifting priorities, achieving SDGs 2030 getting a hit, development aid (barring from world financial institutions such as World Bank) shrinking further (as donors re-shift to their inward and urgent socioeconomic needs). Reviving economy, in general, will need multi-pronged efforts. The following stimulus needs to be sustainable and resilient: nation-states around the world are racing to implement economic stimulus and support packages to keep individuals, businesses, communities and economies afloat. While supporting their urgent implementation, it needs to be ensured that these measures pave the way to a more sustainable economy and do not in any manner lock us further into a high-carbon future. STRIKE WHEN THE IRON IS HOT: Periods of high unemployment and low interest rates are the right time for new low-carbon investments and infrastructure, including the kind necessary to support the transition to clean energy.
What revisiting E (=MC2, see Part 1) of this planet is meant here is from the perspective of sustainability that matters for us human beings (and other life elements considering we are not self-centred). Taking up the COVID case in its current frame where we are all fearing community-spread or third stage proliferation, it is inevitable that future urban development as well as rural development needs rethinking and redesigning. Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Projections show that urbanization, the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add further 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations data set (2018). In other words, our cities and towns will be more heading towards “Ghetto Syndrome”. To provide space for such urban centres, we will gradually encroach upon more rural areas and also that more people will be living in a smaller area. It is frightening to think about what will happen to ecology and ecosystem services that come from rural areas where we are trying to protect our mountains, forests, wetlands and other ecosystems. Also let us for the time being ignore the defining pre-COVID 19 phase where Climate Change Impacts were already haunting us. In other words, the current concern that if our urbanised/slum areas are affected by COVID in a 9 Billion people planet of 2050 when people might be living in each other’s laps, we will have a human catastrophe difficult to foresee now (e.g. already it is obvious how bigger cities are having maximum infections and deaths: New York, Wuhan, Mumbai, Madrid, Bergamo) and mostly poor will perish as well as get further orphaned from the economic prosperity we all are looking for.
Hence rather than the only debate how sustainable development and successful management of urban growth, especially in low-income and lower-middle-income countries where the pace of urbanization is projected to be the fastest, can be done, COVID 19 fall-out must re-shift the attention to rural areas and their equitable development. This can be done more from the perspective of “Future Resilience Building” and that would mean globally, we must, for rural populations, ensure housing, transportation, energy systems and other infrastructure, as well as for local entrepreneurship and employment and basic services such as education and health care. Integrated policies to improve the lives of both urban and rural dwellers are needed, while strengthening the linkages (e.g. markets) between urban and rural areas, building on their existing economic, social and environmental ties. Hence future paradigmatic focus, inter alia, must be on setting readjusted rural priorities that help urban depopulation, foster business and innovative rural entrepreneurship that ensure good delivering of public services to sparsely populated regions. The danger is that in the Post-COVID 19 fever, we might still put our money on: Man is an animal that makes bargains; no other animal does this- no dog exchanges bones with another (says Adam Smith), and that would be futile, if we only focus on economic revival at all costs and spurn the global opportunity COVID 19 has brought i.e. to be inclusive, integrated, and comprehensive in our approach to design a new future collectively so that Eternity Principle of this universe is contributed with healthy mother nature, and which in turn would mean Humans redouble their efforts to conserve and care! Hence let us keep 2050 in view, and ensure that COVID like catastrophe does not result in daily-wagers running from cities to their rural homes, as we reinforce resilience and plentiful opportunities in our rural areas.