Notwithstanding the fact that the coronavirus has affected almost the entire global community, and that it has humanitarian, social, political and economic implications of unknown proportions requiring a united global approach against the contagion, the world has failed to forge a united front against it. The unfortunate reality is that the big powers which could have provided a global leadership in the fight against this unprecedented challenge of the century are locked in a blame-game about the spread of the virus, placing their political interests above the common humanitarian cause.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was right on the money when, in an interview with Reuters recently, he lamented the lack of leadership by world powers and a divided international community in the fight against the coronavirus, particularly in regards to support for the poor countries. He said, “I am particularly worried about insufficient help from the international community for developing countries both in responding to the pandemic and addressing the economic and social impacts. The contribution of China and the United States both to fight covid-19 and to all other aspects in the development of international relations is, in my opinion, absolutely essential”.
The remarks of the Secretary General have come in the backdrop of US President Donald Trump re-igniting his war of words with China regarding the origin and handling of the virus as well as his assertion that China would do everything to make him lose his election bid in November; his allegations against the World Health Organization of a China-centric approach and suspension of US funding for the agency. It is pertinent to mention that the WHO had earlier contradicted the claim of the US President about the virus having originated in a lab in China. WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib said at a news briefing in Geneva that all available evidence suggested that the virus had an animal origin and was not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else. Perhaps it is because of the USA falling out with the WHO that the UNSC has spent more than a month trying to negotiate a resolution that would emphasize the urgent need for enhanced cooperation among all countries in the fight against the coronavirus and would call for a humanitarian truce in conflicts around the world. Reportedly the key sticking point is how the resolution should reference the WHO in it. The US also stayed out of the WHO initiative where world leaders pledged to accelerate work on tests, drugs and vaccines against covid-19.
It is incumbent upon the world community, particularly the affluent nations who are spending trillions of dollars in their own countries on stimulus and relief packages, to write off the loans due from the developing countries instead of only giving a one-year reprieve on debt payments. They should realize that until and unless the developing and poor nations are not helped adequately to deal with the brewing crisis coinciding with the efforts in their own countries to grapple with the invisible enemy, the pandemic cannot be tackled effectively and the cycle of sufferings will continue. By helping the developing and poor countries they will in fact be securing the future of the entire humanity including their own
It is interesting to note that a predominant view in the USA over Trump’s blame-game against China and the cutting of funds to WHO after accusing it of adopting a pro-China stance, is that he was desperately trying to find scapegoats for his own ineptitude and handling of the challenge. It is further believed that had he spent more time in listening to the WHO instead of trying to hit it, thousands of American lives could have been saved.
The reality is that the WHO gave the first warning about coronavirus on January 14 and then rang the alarms bell at the end of the month by declaring it a public health emergency of international concern. It also developed an effective diagnostic test which is used in dozens of countries, while the USA still cannot manage adequate testing. In February also WHO issued urgent warnings about the spread of the virus. Trump ignored them, instead insisting that it was “totally under control” and predicting that the number of infections would drop. By downplaying the threat and adopting a passive approach in spite of the warning about the risks by World Health Organization, President Trump and his own advisors squandered the chance to acquire more personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses. His likening of covid-19 to the flu led people to join public gatherings like Mardi Gras and Florida spring break, and that is one reason the USA has had 80 deaths per million inhabitants from covid-19, compared with four per million in South Korea and fewer than one per million in Taiwan.
Another worrying factor in regards to fight against the contagion is that the financial support announced by the G-20, the IMF, the World Bank and the ADB for the poor and developing countries in the shape of a one-year moratorium on payment of their loans is not a commensurate response to the challenge. Although a one-year reprieve on the payment of loans is a welcome move as it would provide some fiscal space to them in the short run, to expand their health systems and lessen economic impact of the virus, but considering the enormity of the challenge and the uncertainty regarding how long the pandemic was going to persist, the effort was not going to achieve the desired results.
Economists and experts believe that it would further increase the debt burden of the developing nations. The deferred debt payments will have to be made by these countries after the expiry of the moratorium period; and in view of the dismal growth projections made by the World Bank, these countries may not be able to even do that, what to speak of increasing expenditure on measures to prevent the spread of virus and raising adequate health facilities to treat the people affected by the virus.
As appealed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the right approach would have been writing off the loans of the developing and poor countries altogether. He has rightly launched a diplomatic effort to muster support of other nations for lobbying the affluent nations in this regard. One hopes that the developed countries would respond positively to the initiative.
Fighting the coronavirus pandemic has humanitarian as well as economic dimensions. Therefore it is incumbent upon the world community, particularly the affluent nations who are spending trillions of dollars in their own countries on stimulus and relief packages, to write off the loans due from the developing countries instead of only giving a one-year reprieve on debt payments. They should realize that until and unless the developing and poor nations are not helped adequately to deal with the brewing crisis coinciding with the efforts in their own countries to grapple with the invisible enemy, the pandemic cannot be tackled effectively and the cycle of sufferings will continue. By helping the developing and poor countries they will in fact be securing the future of the entire humanity including their own. The sooner it is done the better.