COVID-19 has made one thing blindingly clear. The path of “development” that humans are on is unsustainable. Nature has started hitting back. The coronavirus might only be the first in an apocalyptic series.
The pandemic has also exposed just how fragile this “development” is. All it took was a few months of stagnation to undo years and even decades of work. To use a car metaphor, our economies seemingly had no suspension system, nothing to cushion the blows. It was driving nicely as long as the road was smooth but could not continue its trajectory once it got bumpy.
Similarly, the virus also revealed just how unequal our “development” was. The rich got richer in every respect. Inequality got worse.
Things are bleak right now but history is a testament that bleakness can push changes, and the pandemic has made that easier. Before, the world was on a set path, being driven by covert and overt national and supranational machinery. But COVID-19 has now damaged this machinery and, to continue with the vehicle allegory, has forced them to stop for repairs. So, for the first time in a long time, the power is in the hands of people, we are the ones calling the shots and we are the ones who can now bring the changes we desire.
And, while we may not have noticed it, we have already started with the process. We have forced our governments to open up their coffers in ways that were once unimaginable and invest in people, their health, housing and relief. We made authorities think about “development” through the lens of human welfare and not just in monetary terms. In just a few months, states have brought sweeping changes to policies that otherwise would have taken them years and at least a couple of elections. Our collective definition of the word ‘heroes’ changed almost overnight and sectors and people previously overlooked or taken for granted finally got the recognition they deserve.
We were able to force science to develop a vaccine for a deadly disease in less than a year of its existence. Think about how huge that is! HIV originated in the 1920s, flu and malaria have been with us since the dawn of humanity. Yet, there are no universal vaccines for any of these diseases. But COVID-19 got jabs, which are more than 90 per cent effective, in less than 365 days.
Now, pessimists may say that these are momentary blips and they very well could be. But the thing we have to collectively realise is that they need not be. We now have our priorities straight and have seen what’s really important. We also now know the power we, as citizens, hold. So, having experienced the things we have experienced and knowing the things we know, we cannot afford to let things go back to their pre-pandemic state. We have a momentous opportunity to shape the world for us and our future generations and it would be unfathomably foolish of us to squander it.
And this foolishness has consequences. After the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, the world had a chance to build a more resilient health structure. Yet, it chose to settle in apathy and a century later, look at what we are facing now. After the 1973 oil crisis in the United States, the world saw just how detrimental its over-reliance on fossil fuels could be. Still, we did not explore alternatives and today, we have climate change, global warming and everything they have entailed.
The pandemic has put us at a similar crossroads. Now, it is for us to decide if we will repeat history or seek transformation.