SINCE the Covid-19 outbreak began, leaders at the United Nations, World Health Organisation and WWF International plus a myriad of research by prominent scientists have been indicating that pandemics such as the coronavirus are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature.
Covid-19 is not just a global pandemic and public health crisis, it has also brutally disturbed global financial markets and the economy.
A rise in unemployment, significant reductions in income and disruptions in the manufacturing industries and transport service are among the penalties, or repercussions of the pandemic mitigation measures which have been implemented in many countries, including Malaysia.
And the economic shutdowns due to the global health emergency pose serious risks to human welfare all over the world.
As articulated by Wangari Muta Maathai, a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize: “The environment and economy are really both two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.”
The Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021, depending on the severity of the economic contraction.
According to the World Bank biennial Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report, extreme poverty, defined as living on less than US$1.90 a day, is likely to affect between 9.1% and 9.4% of the world’s population in 2020.
The report also finds that many of the new poor will be in countries that already have high poverty rates.
In Malaysia, we have been presented with a myriad of news on destitution and suffering caused by the pandemic.
For example, the news about a mother in Kuala Krai, Kelantan who put aside her dignity and pride by taking instant noodles on credit just to feed her three hungry children, parents in Kampung Melayu Majidee, Johor forced by destitution and desperation to ask for rice and cooking materials from neighbours in order to feed their four children, and a grandchild and a pair of young siblings who were leaning against the wall of a fast food restaurant in Sabah, hungry whereby a kind-hearted person sensed the hardship that the young siblings were going through and bought food for them.
Plus, I can never forget the heart-breaking incident where a mother with four of her young children approached me and my husband as we were leaving a sundry shop, asking if we could get a small packet of rice and some eggs for them as they had nothing at home.
Such news and incidents are telling every Malaysian that vulnerable populations of the country are being severely disturbed by the pandemic.
It is urgently important to make the invisible, visible in Malaysia at times like this.
The Covid-19’s “nightmarish” economic crisis highlights the need for urgent action to sequester the pandemic’s health and economic repercussions, protect vulnerable populations and set the stage for a perpetual recovery.
For developing countries, many of which face frightening vulnerabilities including Malaysia, it is pivotal to intensify public health systems, respond to the challenges posed by informality and carry out reforms that will promote strong and sustainable growth once the health crisis subsides.
As articulated by the author of The Age of Sustainable Development, General Ban-Ki Moon: “sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.”
However, it is sad and disappointing to read news on the development of unnecessary new urban projects. The threat to the environment lies with the irreversible clearance and can destroy an entire ecosystem causing environmental threats.
We need to understand that climate change due to uncontrolled exhaustion of the environment may aggravate erosion, the decline in organic matter, salinisation, soil biodiversity loss, landslides, desertification and flooding.
The effect of climate change on soil carbon storage can be related to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, increased temperatures and changing precipitation patterns.
With environmental change, globalisation and urbanisation, infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics have become formidable threats socially, economically and politically.
When we damage the Earth, we damage our own welfare. Human beings are as susceptible as any other species. Our welfare and survivability depends on a healthy planet.
Ergo, I would like to end here with a famous quote by Jim Shubert, a stand-up comedian from Philadelphia: “If the Earth was an apartment, we wouldn’t be getting our security deposit back”.