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SECURITY CHALLENGES FACING HUMANITY IN A POST-PANDEMIC MULTI-POLAR WORLD

November 09
08:54 2022

(A paper by Manish Sahdev[1]) 

Introduction 

  1. The Spanish-flu pandemic of 1918-20 had literally brought the world to its knees. It caused over 50 million deaths and 500 million infections –one fourth of the world’s population at that time. This was the time when first World War was ending and the societies were not equipped with modern day services and technologies. The analysis of main contributory factors of virus spread at that time suggests that primarily it was lack of health awareness amongst people, trench warfare and unprecedented cold climatic conditions which resulted in sucha catastrophic outcome.
  1. Almost a century later, the outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in a diversified adverse impact in various domains resulting in Security Challenges to humanity resulting in over 420 million infections and 3 million deaths worldwide.It has managed to filter past borders and boundaries seamlessly to affect even the leadership of known bastions of power. The rapid spread of the coronavirus is primarily attributed to initial underestimation of the associated risks, the rapid movement of people and underprepared healthcare infrastructure across nations. Of the major challenges that have emerged consequent to COVID-19, three major challenges have grappled humankind and of them, firstly, isHealth Security challenge primarily consisting of impact on healthcare, infrastructure, physical and psychological well being of people. Secondly, worldwide Economic Slowdown, due to persistent lockdowns, non-availability of human resource, travel restrictions, reduced trade etc. Thirdly, the Geo-politicalInstability, as a result of changed world order wherein nations aretending to look inwards with reduced interdependencies, reduced collaborations and with tendencies to derive political leverages, both within and outside states, under the umbrella of the pandemic. 

Health Security

  1. “Why didn’t we see it coming?” is a familiar question these days.The outbreak of COVID-19 saw unpreparedness of various kinds. The world initially underplayed the virus itself and chose to remain aloof of the emerging crisis. As the first wave hit many nations, it hit hard and by the volumes. The healthcare systems of most nations, including developed countries, were crippled and struggled to cope with the associated burdens. Then came the lockdowns, isolations, quarantines and degradation in the mental well-being of people. Large number of human casualties were also because of delays in health support due to overwhelmed healthcare systems.
  1. Healthcare Infrastructure. The post pandemic world, which has battled the COVID-19 pandemic for two years is battered and bruised for sure. The healthcare infrastructure in developed and developing nations have been stretched far beyond the limits.  USA and UK, with the best of healthcare infrastructure, have emerged as the worst-hit nations due to delayed and inconsistent approaches, social inequalities and demonstrated reluctance towards vaccination by large section of societies. With most of the healthcare systems devoted towards COVID care, people with other ailments and healthcare requirements have suffered as well. Thus, statistics such as ICU beds, oxygenvolume and doctors per thousand people have emerged as top concerns for rapid response. Worldwide, the precedence of healthcare human resource and infrastructure has gone up and large investments are now visible to ensure availability of rapid and adequate response. This has emerged as a major learning point even for developed nations.
  1. Vaccination and Research.The COVID pandemic’s rapidity and deep penetration into the society have forced medical researchers to work overtime in a mission mode to arrive at a counter strategy. Thus, the world saw vaccines coming out as an emergency response without adequate sampling trials. This was seen as a calculated risk to safeguard the humanity. And it has worked to a very large extent. Nations have taken colossal vaccination drives to vaccinate the population and the death rates have dropped appreciably. Despite multiple mutations by Coronavirus, the vaccines have been effective across a wide range of population and this has renewed the confidence of modern researchers worldwide to undertake such work in a crisis, should there be a need. Alongside came the dimension of Vaccine Diplomacy and vaccine producing nations reached out to other nations to strengthen or develop the relations further. Research during crisis has been a hallmark of human perseverance.
  1. Mental Health.The approaches adopted by different countries to prevent the spread of the COVID pandemic such as lockdowns, travel restrictions etc. have had significant adverse effect on social growth and mental health of individuals. Large periods of lockdowns and isolations have resulted in lack of employment across nations. The process of growing and working in a social environment has seen a near collapse, leading to increased frustration and intolerant behaviourin large sections of societies worldwide. The cases pertaining to domestic abuse against women and childrenalong with associated crimes have seen a significant increase across the world. People have remained connected to each other only through internet resulting in objective relationships against the traditional ones.Social media has emerged as the backbone of communication and the primary source of sharing information as well as learning.The frustration of people has been visible through social media and instances of bullying, lynching, trolling and violent proteststhrough disinformation have been on the rise causing major security concerns for large number of countries. Young children have remained isolated in homes sacrificing critical social growth which they would have developed at schools. The behavioral change leading to intolerance, abuse, public violence and social unrest in societies have been certain key outcomes in the post-COVID period.

Economic Security

  1. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 contagion has brought economies worldwide to a near standstill with negative GDP growth in some of the countries. The initial variants of the virus were highly transmissible and deadly as far as impact on human bodies is concerned. This forced many countries to adopt a restrictive approach to break the chain of the virus spread which resulted in many countrywide lockdowns, travel restrictions, reduced trades, highly restricted supply chains, global hunger, unemployment etc. Increased trade deficits are now visible in most of the countries including USA, UK, India and many EU countries. This has also forced many companies to adopt innovative strategies for workflows and thus ‘Work from Anywhere’ approach has been mostly predominant in the COVID-19 period.
  1. Slowdowns. On 21 Nov 20, while addressing G20 summit online, Narender Modi, hon’ble Prime Minister of Indiaassessed that the COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest challenge faced by the world since World War-II and was an important turning point in the history of humanity. Two years into the pandemic, his assessment has actually turned out to be prophetic – the deepest global recession since World War-II.At the outbreak of the pandemic, it was predicted that most major economies will lose at least 2.9 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020-21[1]. The rapidity and severity of the contagion forced a review to a 4.5 percent GDP loss. To put this in simple terms, global GDP was estimated at around 84.54 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020 –a 4.5 percent drop in economic growth results in approximately 2.99 trillion U.S. dollars of lost fiscalyield.This resulted in most of the nations, pumping large portions of national wealth reserves back into the economic eco-system, including monetary welfare to citizens, to sustain essential economical components such as agriculture, health care, supply chains, communication, water and electricity.
  1. Affected Industries.A large number of industries have been affected worldwide due to the COVID-19 contagion. However, some industries such as Travel & Tourism, Automobile and Aviation have suffered the greatest setback since the onset of the pandemic. Widespread lockdowns resulted in travel restrictions thereby causing substantial losses in the business of tourism. Hospitality industry across the world resorted to substantial lay-offs of their employees. This was also a direct fallout of the reduced air travel for tourism and business purposes. Aviation sector across the globe remained active only to sustain health related and other essential supply chains. The automobile sector saw an unprecedented collapse due to reduced demand, non-availability of human resource andreduction in production of chip-related critical components.
  1. Unemployment. This has been the fundamental and universal factor across most of the economic domains. The human-resource across the world got isolated, affected and lost in large portions due to the contagion. It is estimated that post one year into the pandemic, 32 percent of respondents globally had their employment impacted in some way or the other. Similarly, 25 percent lost their jobs due to changed businesses and 10 percent lost their jobs due to lay-offs[2]. The age bracket of 18-24 suffered the most: almost 34 percent of this young population had their employment impacted. While loss of employment was almost equal across both genders, 9 percent more men resumed work in some form or the other indicating that women had to stay back in their homes for home-schooling of their children.The major concerns parents had for their children were that they would fall behind academically and suffer a negative social impact.
  1. Skill and Education.COVID-19 pandemic has forced many nations to adopt innovative strategies and bring in new reforms in the field of education with India taking the lead to announce National Education Policy 2020. It has been estimated that approximately 90 percent of students in low-income countries, 50 percent in middle-income countries and 30 percent in high-income countries left school without essential life skills. Temporary closures during the initial lockdowns in almost 180 countries[3] further compounded the problem keeping an estimated 1.6 bn students out of schools and colleges.While most of the educators adopted to teach online, the resources remained limited and so was the reach to all the children. The results have been mixed wherein most of the student population was tested in online modes during the initial waves of the contagion. As per UNICEF[4] estimates, during the initial waves, 24 million children had become dropout risks and 370 million children who relied on school meals had become vulnerable to malnutrition. This has thushampered the skill programming directly as well as indirectly in students and adults. Therefore, in addition to educational reforms including Digital Upskilling, governments across the world will now have to determine how to draw a clear path for a better future via adult education as well. These will be fundamental in dealing with unemployment as well as triggering the economic recovery. 

Geo-political Instabilities 

  1. The New Order. As humanity continues to grapple with diverse effects of the contagion, ‘What lies ahead?’  still affects all nations, states, cities and villages. Being mindful of our inability to predict the future, the risk of end of globalization has begun to haunt. It is now a well-established fact that this pandemic is not unidirectional (scientifically and literally)and the immediate response of nations across the world has been to shut the borders. This has indicated the tendency of most nations to focus more inwards, reduce inter-dependencies and be self-reliant with flavours of protectionism. More nations have attempted to produce indigenous vaccines to safeguard own citizens first. These tendencies have also resulted in a multi-polar eco-system, especially with China attempting to maximise its geo-political leverage under the umbrella of COVID-19 pandemic. International organisations such as G20, UN and WHO have been under a close scanner for their effectiveness and inaction. China has been in limelight since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The suspicion of the virus’s origin and China’s poor approach to contain the COVID-19 pandemic during its onset has led to a large amount of trust deficit across the world. With China sounding the trumpet against Taiwan, Hong Kong and India, Russia’s aggressive stance against Ukraine, North Korea’s repeated weapon capability demonstrations and Iran’s repeated military drills with Russia, a new world order has emerged – and quite clearly. The world now seems to have assessed the heavy price it is paying by putting all its eggs in one basket. New alignments such as QUAD, increased confidence in India, Vietnam, Japan and S Korea are now the threads that are knitting the new world order swiftlyignoring comfortably that multilateralism is not globalization and vice-versa.
  1. National Security. More than 90 percent[5] of the world’s population has experienced some form of restriction or lockdown since the onset of the pandemic. This has broadened the mandate of defence and security forces across the world who have been critically employed to impose and monitor restrictions. Crime, domestic violence, burglaries, looting, violent protests etc have increased manifold during the pandemic as a result of frustrations, isolations, unemployment, intolerance and desperation amongst people. These have also been contributors in escalating the COVID-19 transmission due to lack of appropriate social behaviour. Cyber security has emerged as a prominent component of national security. During the pandemic, the instances of cyber crimes has increased substantially as governance, business and education thrive to become digital. More nations have resorted to cyber isolation during violent protests and have implemented newer cyber laws and regulations to express digital sovereignty.
  1. Political Leverages. This pandemic has also been seen as a political crisis in which some political leaders have attempted to politicisethe contagion and strengthen their control over the instruments of power as well as suppress dissent. Emergency powers have been used in some nations to restrict human rights, enhance surveillance and dominatesocial media. Disinformation across the world costs US $ 78 bn[6] annually excluding social impacts. In many countries COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a declined trust in respective governments through disinformation compounded with restrictions and enforcements. Lack of clarity regarding federal structures’ roles and responsibilities have left citizens vulnerable in many countries.

Conclusions

  1. Waking up to a Safe New World. This contagion has been a rarest-of-the-rare threat to humanity causing immeasurable suffering to billions of people globally. Despite restrictions, lockdowns and losses, countries are cautiously adoptingnewer strategies and easing restrictions. It has taught a rather bitter lesson to humanity that all facets of human security i.e. healthcare, employment, education and social stability are interdependent. It further signifies that cooperation between governments, private sector, researchers, security forces and civil society is essential to understand the underlying challenges associated with such a pandemic and design solutions through ‘Whole of Nation’ and ‘Global’ approaches.
  1. Increased Cooperation and Preparedness. While the latest variant ‘Omicron’ has not turned out to be as deadly as its predecessors (vaccines have worked), it may not yet be time to celebrate. Developed nations such as USA, UK and most of the EU nations have been caught unawares, unprepared, with delays and inaction in this crisis. On the other hand, governments in South-East Asia have demonstrated better and effective response through deep coordination and constant engagement with civil society. Despite the healthcare being stretched beyond limits worldwide, researchershave worked overtime to bring in vaccines; global economies regressed substantially, but essential domains remained active with innovative solutions; geo-political instabilities pulled nations apart, but new alignments emerged with renewed interdependencies. Humanity, despite facing one of the deepest crises ever, has demonstrated great resolve in dealing with it.
  1. The Next Normal. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more than evident that the need of the hour is to have well-coordinated unified responses, both nationally and internationally,through comprehensive interactions between government mechanisms, civil societies and private sector. The experiences of last two years need to be logically analysed to articulate future strategies. Pandemics of different kinds cannot be ruled out in future and thus the world must learn to remain vigilant and ready for effective responses through effective and constant bio-tech research. Pandemic fatigue must not be allowed to set in and healthcare services, research and infrastructure must be strengthened enough for citizens to regain confidence. This confidence will allow stagnant economies to progressupwards; education, employment and upskilling to regain growth; and fractured geo-political frameworks to stabilise. Vaccines must reach the remotest of the placeson our planet, through shared responsibilities and cooperation of nations, tohalt the spread of the virus else it could mutate and affect further. Deeper and more responsible cooperation, engagements and targeted preparedness could see humanity emerge victorious in dealing with such once-in-a-lifetime crisis.

___________________________________________________________________

References

  1. The impact of COVID-19 on Human Security, May 21. Edited by Marco Di Liddo, CeSI.
  1. How governments can pushtowards a better tomorrow. Kevin BurrowesGlobal Clients and Industries Leader, PwCUnited Kingdom and Jessica Shannon, Former partner with PwC Ghana , 08 Mar 21. https://www.pwc.com
  1. Challenges of Global Governance amid the COZVID-19 Pandemic. Council of Foreign Relations. May 20

[1]Air Cmde Manish Sahdev is a serving officer of Indian Air Force, currently undergoing one year long M Phil course at National Defence College, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

End Notes

[1]https://www.statista.com/topics/6139/covid-19-impact-on-the-global-economy/#dossierKeyfiguresM. Szmigiera, 23 Nov 21

[2]https://www.kantar.com/inspiration/research-services/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-employment-and-education-pf16 Feb 21

[3]https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/how-could-covid-19-hinder-progress-learning-poverty-some-initial-simulations

[4]https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/nutrition-crisis-looms-more-39-billion-school-meals-missed-start-pandemic-unicef-and

[5]https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/01/more-than-nine-in-ten-people-worldwide-live-in-countries-with-travel-restrictions-amid-covid-19/  Phillip Conner.

[6]https://www.zdnet.com/article/online-fake-news-costing-us-78-billion-globally-each-year  Eileen Brown 18 Dec 19

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3 Comments

  1. Rajeev Gupta
    Rajeev Gupta November 09, 11:33

    Excellent and relevant article

    Reply to this comment
  2. Rajeev Gupta
    Rajeev Gupta November 09, 11:34

    Excellent and relevant article . I have similar views and have been expressing on several forums

    Reply to this comment
  3. Rajesh Sharma
    Rajesh Sharma November 09, 19:30

    Very nicely drafted and explained article

    Reply to this comment

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