This article was previously published by our author Rose Smith in Rappler. Rose explores the challenges of global cooperation that are now in the spotlight because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rose explains how this pandemic is exacerbating the pre-existing socioeconomic inequalities and explains our role in being part of global community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the core foundations of our globalised world. As national borders close, international travel brought to a halt, and global production limited, certain freedoms we once enjoyed – possibly took for granted – have been curbed substantially. To those of us who are lucky enough to avoid and survive the virus, we must ask ourselves: What kind of world do we want to live in after COVID-19? In order for us to answer such a question, we must first look at what the current pandemic tells us.
The global pandemic has displayed the need for genuine international cooperation and highlighted the crucial role of institutions and leaders both globally and locally to determine something so primal – whether we live or die.
Even before the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, we were already facing mounting global challenges that were and are still begging for international cooperation. What sets COVID-19 apart from them is the degree in which its consequences are immediate and categorical in the daily lives of most individuals. The pandemic has shown us – ever so clearly – the global connection globalisation boasts illustrating how immediate the effects of one’s actions, decisions, and opinions are to someone else living thousands of miles away. As it now dictates who we interact with, where to work, when to do our groceries, how to dress, and what to do during our free time (if you have any), it is clear how the consequences brought about by COVID-19 permeate the personal space of every individual in the world. While other global challenges will eventually have a similar degree of consequences, it is not happening now.
The pandemic also presents a preview of the eventual global catastrophe coming our way if we continue to dilly dally around fostering genuine cooperation. Both the UN and WHO Secretaries-General promote solidarity as the key to defeating COVID. Yes, we need solidarity. We need it not just among individuals but also among countries, which have the capability to command. The pandemic highlights the importance of collaboration, communication, and cooperation between countries to solve – or even prevent – global crises. It shows us that there was a possibility of preventing the global spread of COVID-19 if swift actions were taken not just by countries but also by the international community. Why did it not happen then? What power do these international institutions really have? Are there not enough structures to foster genuine cooperation? These are just a few of the many questions we must critically ponder upon if we want the list of global issues handled conscientiously in the future.
To experience something as extensive, detrimental, and unexpected as COVID-19 shows us the true capabilities of our international, national, and local institutions and leaders.
The efficiency and effectiveness of both national and local governments, institutions and politicians were and are continued to be put to the test with the pandemic. With the onset of the pandemic into national borders, it exacerbates almost all pre-existing socio-economic issues of various countries across the globe. It brought to the fore already known yet ignored issues such as flaws or even the lack of health care systems, increasing inequalities in society, and plummeting poverty rates. It drew our attention to how, in certain countries, the socio-economic status quo is held together by a very fragile piece of string that is at breaking point.
The choices to use our power, rights, and voices not only as citizens in liberal democratic societies but also as a political unit have never been more decisive. The kind of leaders we demanded in the previous elections and the decisions they make right now decides whether we are afforded a chance to live or not. From the kind of health care system they advocate and develop to the emergency policies they decide during a crisis, we had a say, a choice, and a recourse to change it. Should our current circumstances prove unfavourable for us, then we must ask the questions: What could we have done differently? What kinds of choices did we really have? What is lacking or can be improved in our political institutions? Our responsibility as citizens is drastically highlighted in the pandemic.
We are not only citizens of our respective countries but also members of the global community who are suffering in a global crisis. As citizens of a state, we used to look to international organizations to hold national governments accountable for their actions. Today, we need to think about ways to hold the politicians and diplomats in these international organizations accountable for the non-service or the disservice they have displayed to the international community as a whole. Needless to say, we must also hold them accountable for holding other entities, who knowingly spread the virus across the globe, accountable as well. They simply cannot hide behind words such as “unprecedented” or what we often hear as “not within the mandate”. These global leaders in these huge international institutions not only have the power, expertise, and the resources, but also the loudest voice in the clamours of uncertainty.
These global leaders in these huge international institutions not only have the power, expertise, and the resources, but also the loudest voice in the clamours of uncertainty.
Moreover, it begs to be emphasized that this pandemic is not entirely unprecedented. We have recently had SARS in 2002 – 2003 and are still experiencing the MERS outbreak to name two very recent pandemics. Experts have predicted and warned the international community of the possibility for another zoonotic virus to spread soon – and it did.
Therefore, we should ask: Why were international institutions so unprepared to handle it despite clear and recent precedence? What sort of international leadership do we have during the pandemic? Can we even say we had one?
The onslaught of COVID-19 shows how one state’s decision affects the rest of the world but also how imperative our democratic processes are in deciding the fate of our very own lives. Considering the detrimental effects of the pandemic, the thesis remains: We need better structures, institutions, and leaders that foster genuine global action for global issues. This call for action is felt across the globe as the UN recently reported the initial results of its UN75 initiative survey that show how 95% of respondents from 186 countries across all age groups and education levels agree that countries need to work together to manage global issues with an uptick from the end of February onwards. As we all inhabit and share the world we live in, it is inescapable that we work together to find ways to combat the challenges we are collectively facing and will face in the future.
These observations provide the initial momentum needed for critical reflections on the pandemic. The developing ramifications of COVID-19 have shown a rise of citizen empowerment in certain areas in the globe. We should capitalise on this and redirect our efforts to hold incompetent institutions, governments, and politicians accountable. However, the question remains after every disaster: Will we learn? Will we critically reflect on the situation we face? Will this serve as a wake-up call for individuals to demand reform? I’d like to take a more optimistic stance. After all, disappointment seems like a very small price to pay for any possibility of actually inciting change for a better world.