What does the crisis teach us about what needs to be done to meet the sustainable development goals?
So far, the spread of Covid-19 infections has been growing at an exponential rate across the globe. There is no doubt that in some months or years, countries of the world will be able to manage the pandemic which is said to have originated in China. At present, over half of the world’s population is under lockdown. In India, the total number of coronavirus cases has climbed up to over 37,000 and has taken the lives of over 1200 patients. We have entered the phase 3.0 of the total economic lockdown, as announced by the PM Narendra Modi Ji with advice from the experts, which has lasted for over 40 days. It is hoped that these actions will lead to controlling the spread of the virus for the time being. However, the Covid-19 crisis has thrown up some serious fundamental questions for the entire world to ponder over.
There are two strands of explanations, when it comes to understanding the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some allege that the pandemic is a result of the bio-chemical war between the United States and China. Most scientists, however, seem to agree with the explanation that the origin of the disease lies in the wet markets of Wuhan, where several species of wild animals including bats and pangolins are stacked on top of one another in unhygienic conditions.
Healthcare system in India
Emergence of Covid-19 has exposed the broken healthcare system of India. It is also a wake-up call to country to learn that even after seven decades after Indian independence, we are far behind other countries in terms of accessibility of healthcare and the quality of healthcare facilities. It is good that we have called for a complete lockdown of the economy, after the initial experiment of the Janata Curfew. However, the lockdown has caused severe damage to the livelihoods of marginalized communities, including migrant workers. Instead of being busy in political extravaganzas like arranging Trump’s visit in February and celebrating the political victory in Madhya Pradesh on 23rd March, more time could have been spent in careful planning on various aspects of the lockdown. On 24th March, PM Modi Ji announced the lockdown without clear communication regarding the nature of essential services, especially for the daily wage workers and migrant workers, who would be worst hit by the decision. This led to a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to their native villages on foot. It is said that this kind of migration has not been witnessed in India since the partition of India and Pakistan. As of April 13th, 331 had died of the coronavirus and at least 195 people have died of the lockdown.
In order to understand why the present government took such a harsh decision affecting the poor in the country, one has to understand the priority of the investment decisions taken in the country over the last three decades. We have laid more emphasis on the development of industrial and inorganic agriculture. We have spent way less money on research and development as compared to other countries. These priorities need to change in the future. It is imperative that we spend more on fundamental services such as education and healthcare, rather than unproductive populist sectors. If you take the case of any Indian village, you will find 4-5 religious institutions managed by the people in the village, but it is rare to find healthcare or educational institutions set up or managed by a community. The people who suffer the most from this under-development are the marginal farmers and the poor.
Many countries in the world have failed to adequately mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic. Some countries like Israel, Taiwan, South Korea and China have claimed to have contained the spread. So far, India has been able to contain the spread of the disease at a heavy cost to the economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts zero growth for the Asian economy in 2020. India could have done better both on the health and economic fronts if the incumbent government had acted in a more strategic way and imposed staggered lockdowns. Lockdown as a blanket solution for a vast country like India is not prudent. Various reports have estimated that around 40 million people in India would be trapped below the poverty line due to the coronavirus lockdown. The effects of the lockdown will last for a long time and many more will be pushed to starvation, unless we come together as a team and act.
Lessons for youth leaders
This is a great opportunity for all the policy makers and community leaders in India and across the globe to break away from communal mindsets and limited group solidarities and come together as a community. It is imperative that governments spend more on education, healthcare, and research and development in order to avoid similary pandemic-driven casualties in the future. Same is the learning for the whole global economy otherwise the goal of SDG will remain a dream in reality.
Biswajit Bhoi is working at Central University of Odisha as Assistant Professor since 2013. His research interests are labor economics, development economics and economics of Discrimination with reference to affirmative action.