Climatic event amidst COVID-19
With each passing day, COVID-19 is becoming a source of fear and panic bringing the lives of millions of people under severe threat. People with weak immune system especially the infants and the above 50 are the majority victims. Economies across the world are facing brutal consequences;stock exchanges are stumbling;and private companies are doing lay-offs. A tough and mindless race to accumulate daily use commodities is racking the markets. The impact may be more complicated and painful for the developing countries having very limited or no resources to combat the deadly challenge. One can say a wave of fear and panic rules the world right now and the biggest question before the world leadership is and will be how to prepare their people to come out of panic and fear. Social distancing, containment, lockdown and quarantine are today’s buzzwords.
Assume… some major climatic event hit the world at the moment and doubled the agony of human sufferings on the earth. Pandemic plus climatic event would be scale of catastrophe. Although we cannot capture a full spectrum of impact, we can try to understand by decoding impacts of past climatic events. The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 has ranked Pakistan on 5th position among the countries more vulnerable to climate changeFrom 1998 to 2017, climate change had incurred an average loss of US$ 3.9 billion per year. In terms of GDP, the cost is 0.5 percent on annual basis. Further, Pakistan suffered an estimated loss of US$ 25.3 billion (5 % of GDP) due to 2010 flood.The long spell of drought that stretched from 1999 to 2003 played havoc with the country’s economy depriving millions of people from their livelihoods and forcing them to migration, especially in Balochistan, southern Punjab and interior Sindh. Health is another area, which was impacted by climate change. Pakistan already has witnessed a wide spread of dengue fever in last few years. Heatwave is another recent phenomenon that killed many people.
Global situation had not been much encouraging since the last three decades. In 2019, Europe was hit by the worst heatwave, which broke the previous records of temperature. Europe struggled to absorb the shock, but to some extent. If it happens again this year, the countries will suffer at a greater scale causing a huge number of casualties, as after China, Europe is the worst-hit by COVID-19 where the number of casualties is touching thousands with lesser hopes of its early control.
Floods, droughts, earthquakesas well asepidemics have hit the South of the world. Three South Asian countries are among top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change. An Oxfam study reads that the disasters had been triple during the last 30 years. Australian Wildfire was of one of the worst climate-related disasters that destroyed trees on 10 million acres of lands as well as other properties.Rise in sea level is another area of concern.It has witnessed a rise of 2.5 times faster during the period between 2006 to2016.Besides, climate change related disasters have also displacedapproximately 20 million people in last few years. The United Nations Environment Program suggested thatthe world need US$ 140-300 billion on yearly basis by 2030 to combat the challenge of climate change.
According to experts, the climatic impacts maybe more severe in future. Health will be one of the most affected area due to climate change. It will have multiple implications for people and economies. In 2018, the World Health Organizationhad predicted that health would be severely impacted by climate change. According to estimates, around 250,000 additional people will die every year due to heat stress, malaria, diarrhea, etc. between 2030-2050. Climate change will also add up to existing spending on health by US$ 2 billion per year by the end of 2030. In 2019, Georgetown University Medical Center predicted that one billion people will be exposed to mosquito related or respiratory diseases till end of century.
The world must keep in mind that the cost of in-action or in-efficiency would be very high, may be beyond the capacity of human race. The very existence of human race would be at stake
Now, take the case ofCOVID-19 which is putting huge pressure on global economy. Countries are spending billions of dollars to prevent and combat it. People are losing jobs and trade is on decline (US$ 50 billion lost). In Ireland, 140,000 jobs have been lost. Similarlyin USA, 3.5 million people will likely to lose their jobs. In case of Pakistan, we don’t have any estimates or mechanism to calculate the job losses. However, it will be huge, and contribute to increase the extent of poverty. Now, the question is whether world can fight another climate change related disaster at this point of time? The answer is no.
We need to prepare for unpredictable. More specifically, a combo of unpredictable. Thus, the world needs to calculate the probability and look for different scenarios, i.e. 1) impact on health, 2) impact on economy, 3) vulnerability of countries and 4) ability of countries to fight back.
First of all,our government should conduct scientific studies to find the probability and possible impacts. The scientific studies should be followed by the policy frameworks and action plans. These frameworks and action plans should be supported by adequate resources in term of human, technology and finance.More investment on capacity building to face the uncertain scenarios is the need of hour. It will help counter the panic and give more space to counter the possible crisis in a better way.
The world must keep in mind that the cost of in-action or in-efficiency would be very high, may be beyond the capacity of human race. The very existence of human race would be at stake, then. We can learn this from our past and present experiences. For example, countries with less preparedness to combat COVID-19 are facing severe consequences. People even, in the developed countries are facing pain and fear of unknown due to lack of preparedness. That’s why aninclusive collective response policy is the need of hour.
The writer is Director, China Study Center, SDPI
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.