COVID-19: Resilience and way forward
TK Khuveio and Adazia Ophrii
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a paralyzing standstill. The virus is invisible to the naked eye but foster devastating visible havoc, from the state of mind to politics, economy, and society. No doubt, we are questioning the existing systems and status quo with more vigour. The question in everyone’s mind is when and how will this pandemic end. Gina Kolata’s article “How Pandemics End” in the New York Times stated that “an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of the panic mode and learn to live with a disease.” Hence, pandemics have two types of ending medical end and social end. As we anticipate how the pandemic will end, we need to prepare for what happens after.
Currently, everyone including the government is in a crisis thinking mode to tackle the immediate challenges of arresting further spread, arranging logistics, making available medical equipment and so forth.
Here, we want to highlight the distraught from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 in the context of Nagaland and Manipur. Fear and loss of livelihoods are the main reasons thousands are flocking home. The looming fear psychosis is fed further by the rising number of COVID -19 patients with no near foreseeable cure. We would like to emphasize the equally urgent need to anticipate for the future and how to prepare.It is only pertinent to mention that the lakhs of returnees are newly unemployed youths with college degrees who worked in the non-governmental, non-essential private sectors in the metro cities. Our concern is, what will they do and how will the government address this situation i.e. the lack of jobs? How should the long-run catastrophic impact of covid-19 be mitigated?
With the loss of jobs and under lockdown things could be daunting beyond the immediate need for survival. The local economy, government, community, and family will be put to a severe test. To cushion this, we would like to humbly suggest some pertinent measures.
1.) Effective and efficient delivery of government schemes/programmes
The state government must muster the strong political will and find every possible way to ensure that the last mile and intended beneficiaries receive welfare services and the schemes without leakage. National Food Security Act (NFSA), Public Distribution System (PDS), Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), etc. can and will shoulder this crisis and shield from humanitarian disasters like hunger, death, starvation, malnutrition, illness, and conflicts.A government is as good as its administration, a policy is as good as its implementation or implement ability, and implementation can be weighed only when people truly benefit. The crisis caused by the pandemic makes this call urgently imperative.
2.) Food safety and security
The food supply chain has been disrupted due to COVID-19 pandemic, leading to rise in food prices due to supply shortage as a result of lockdown, while food produced is rotting because of shutdown of transportation, reduced distribution to markets and restricted buyers.”In the past, we have always dealt with either a demand-side crisis or a supply-side crisis. But this is both—a supply and a demand crisis at the same time, and at a global level,” said Arif Husain, chief economist of World Food Program. The government must devise safe and effective ways to fill the gap between production and consumption either as the primary distributor or facilitate distributions. Shortages in the midst of plenty signal failure of infrastructural and institutional capacity. Here, the state can act to prevent hunger while perfectly good food is made available.
In order to prevent food rotting and going to waste, age-old food preservation methods can be adopted for longer shelf-life. These methods ensure zero-wastage and can meet future food demands.
3.) Strengthened environmental regulations
One of the major victims of the COVID-19 will be wildlife. Reckless hunting and overfishing at this point of time will cause ecological imbalance and endanger the vulnerable and endangered species, along with species that were not in this category then. There have been instances of videos and images circulating in the social media platforms of wild birds and animals being hunted in the recent past after lockdown have been announced. This is only the tip of the iceberg, it may be more widespread.
Writing for the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Professors Josef Settele and co. gave a sobering observation; they said “Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people”. We need to reflect about the relatedness of multiple species, and view ecology holistically. For, the wellbeing of one determines the wellbeing of the others. The responsibility lies with individuals, local leaders, community and the concerned authorities.
4.) Mental health and well-being
The prolonged multi-phased lockdown has led to mental distress and anxiety for many. The returnees coming home with job loss, fear, and uncertainty could be hit the hardest, the overwhelming majority are our precious youths. The BBC reported that during lock down the number of mental health problems proliferated, and warns of mental health “tsunami” due to pent-up “stress during coronavirus disruption e.g. social isolation, increased stress, running out of meds.”The state governments must make it a priority to ensure mental health and well-being of its people by deploying psychologists and counsellors. This effort will be successful if the church, community leaders and elders join hands together. Not only will it be an investment in the well-being of a person but it could avoid unfortunate circumstances like suicide and mental breakdown.
5.) De-Stigmatization of the COVID-19 patients
There has been a worrying trend of stigmatization of persons who has been tested positive with the novel coronavirus even after they have recovered. The feeling of shame from being stigmatized in our society can be unbearably hard and indignant, which can lead to social ostracization negatively affecting the mental health, job prospect, and socialization. This can lead to dangerous consequences, and fear of reporting the case amongst the COVID-19 positive patients. Strong campaigns with a wide reach through various mediums such a radio, television, and social media platforms are pertinent. For this purpose eminent personalities and health professionals can be rope in with a helpline number or a dedicated site. Sufficient workforce and supportive community ties is key.
6.) Nudge constructive activity, creativity, and innovation
This may sound paradoxical as we are currently gripped by crisis thinking. But, it is counter-intuitive. It is fair to ask, how can a person be creative and innovative in an environment gripped by fear? It is worth noting that necessity is the mother of invention. The best ways to use time and mental faculty during this period are to engage constructively and creatively with our minds and body in one’s growth and community service. It can be learning new skills, farming, carpentry, or learning indigenous or traditional knowledge while maintaining the government issued guidelines and physical distancing. The respective state governments must with renewed spirit in the mission mode push forward the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) as it includes elements to revive rural economy which our returnees could work on.
For the government and political parties, these actions are not only policy-wise but it is their moral calling- a responsibility. Every seasoned politician and leaders know that work with tangible results in troubled times adds to political and electoral mileage, and failure to do so, will be at their own peril. A proper implementation will be the key to socio-economic and political stability.
The Latin words, Caritas and Veritas, bears relevance in the present time. Caritas means love in action: to end disease and heal, seek justice, serve and care; to end poverty and hunger, inequality, injustices. Veritas, as defined in Merriam Webster dictionary is, “sincerity in action, character, and utterance” apart from its other meanings. May we live and walk Caritas in Veritas during and beyond this pandemic.
T.K. Khuveio is a doctoral scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.
Adazia Ophrii is an MPhil researcher at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University.