Point of View –
Ben Nnamdi Emenyeonu –
As the flood of news and views about COVID-19 rises higher and higher in the mass and social media, there is hardly any nook of our vast world that hasn’t gained some sort of familiarity with the threat posed by the pandemic or the spirited contentions regarding its causes and cure. Just as the number of casualties mounts in previously infested countries, especially China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, the list of states with initial confirmations of infection grows as we speak.
While trying to synthesise the statistics on its alarming spread across the globe and the profusion of reactions from different organisations, communities and governments, one incontrovertible theme that runs though the entire dispensation, in my view, is the often neglected commonality of the human race.
If there is any lesson to be learned from this crisis, it is that regardless of political ideology, socio-economic status, tribe, colour, gender, religious belief or some other classifications that often sort humanity into isolated and often opposing compartments, there is only one race: the human race. As it is aptly put in a proverb, people may speak different languages, and in a variety of accents, but whenever and wherever everyone coughs or sneezes, it is always the same sound.
As tiny as its legs are likely to be, and as remote and obscure as its birthplace might be, Coronavirus casually strolls up and down the globe; across tightly guarded borders without the required entry visa. Without buying tickets, it travels in business and economy classes by air, road and sea. And wherever it arrives, it makes no distinction between the prince and the peasant in choosing a host. Yet the mass media seem to believe that readers and viewers will be shocked to learn that “this minister, or that popular celebrity, or that wealthy tycoon, has also contracted the virus!”
The simple lesson is that whether it’s about governance, status of the environment, exploitation and allocation of resources, welfare of everyone, human rights, and dignity of the individual, the chain of humanity will never be stronger than its weakest link.
Whenever the wind of disaster like this current one elects or is provoked to blow, no one can be shielded by the big names, titles or positions they hold, or the sophistication of their lives, or the height of walls round their mansions, or the profundity of their financial vaults, or the awesomeness of their nation’s military might. It’s just as simple as one finger begetting oil and the others standing a high chance of being smeared as well. You may bask exclusively at the quintessential level of luxury and comfort, but whatever eventually happens to someone so far away from you, whose meals, for example, are scavenged from refuse bins, might ultimately confront you if it ends up as a virulent virus.
I guess we all have faith that this ill wind will boil over at some point. Like the plagues of olden times or more recent outbreaks such as BSE, H1N1, SARS, MERS and EBOLA, COVID-19 will one day be confined to the bibliography section of the evolving volumes on epidemiology.
But the point is: What happens after that? The world relapses into the weakness of individualism, social class divides and the stark inequalities of regional classifications such as developed and underdeveloped nations? Resources that should have gone into building sustainable environmental care or preventive public health care systems and facilities are added to budgets for the development of weapons of mass destruction or costly space adventures, or may even be diverted to personal bank accounts? The many who have no access to good living continue to stew in the insipidity of their own juices?
If humanity does not join hands in a relentless effort to keep the environment healthy and to fend for the needs of every member of its clan, the ripples of an endangered climate and the desperate actions of the deprived and the lowly, all of which possess the potential of triggering yet another viral outbreak, will not merely pass over anyone because of their residential address or social standing.
Thus, in addition to current reactionary measures to contain or find a cure for COVID-19, there must be a fervent interest among all nations in taking concerted proactive action to deal urgently with issues that might have the potential of developing into future outbreaks. The list is lengthy, but in my opinion, environmental degradation and climate crisis are among the most critical of such issues.