COVID-19 vs. Panic-2020

Worldwide stock markets are crashing. Arbitrary travel bans are being imposed. Huge queues before supermarkets are a daily experience. Most of the airports are empty. The future of airlines is in a stalemate state. Skepticism among general public is higher than ever. Science has been replaced with panic. One wonders whether we are travelling towards another Great Depression.

Thanks to social media owners and breaking news engineers are mounting profits by selling the privacy and shrinking space of individual liberty of every man and woman on the planet. They have manufactured a new social order of control based on panic.

In this new social order, there is no mechanism to hold responsibility and accountability of those who are engineering self-thoughts as news. Therefore, an action of a social media user can cause maximum damage, despite the distance at which the user is residing.

The drama on novel-coronavirus, which is now officially named as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease is now called COVID-19, is yet another case study to understand the pitiful social reality we are compelled to live in. The sad part of this novel social order is that this has been ignored and sidelined for the very reasons we ought to be afraid of. Let’s unveil some of them.

Yes. Annually, there are an estimated 1 billion cases of the flu worldwide, resulting in about 650,000 deaths, while there are only approximately 134,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide till date. Fatality rate of the COVID-19, according to experts of the subject, is around 3-4 per cent. We are way more likely to contact the flu than the novel coronavirus.

The story does not end there. Let me keep aside the human cost of terrorism and extremism as well as the nuclear threats for the time being. Here are some of the facts compiled from the reports by the United Nations and its related bodies on global challenges due to our life style based on deliberate ignorance and cynical manipulation.

There are more than 1billion people suffering from hunger. What does it mean? One in every seven people on this planet doesn’t get sufficient food. In the last few months of this year, the number of death due to hunger are over 1.7 million. Statistics showed that around 9 million people die annually in hunger. Out of the total fatalities, there are 6 million children die in hunger annually worldwide.

According to the WHO statistics, “around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that lead to diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.” 91% of total populations are living in polluted air.

There over 3.5 million people die every year from water-related diseases. The painful reality of this number is that over 2.2 million of those deaths are children.

There are around 800,000 people committing suicide every year on this planet. This meant, as per WHO documented, one person, committing suicide in every 40 seconds. According to the WHO, “Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally.”

Every year natural disasters kill around 90000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. Natural disasters include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heatwaves and droughts.

Approximately 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. 93% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world’s vehicles. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.

The harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year. Some 31 million persons have drug use disorders. Almost 11 million people inject drugs, of which 1.3 million are living with HIV, 5.5 million with hepatitis C, and 1 million with both HIV and hepatitis C.

A new United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) study revealed that some 464000 people across the world were killed in homicides in 2017, surpassing by far the 89000 killed in armed conflicts in the same period. The study shows that the overall number of people who suffered a violent death as a result of homicide increased in the past quarter of a century, from 395542 in 1992 to 464000 in 2017.

The studies revealed that 35% of women worldwide faced some kind of sexual harassments in their lifetime. Only 10% of those victims will seek help from law enforcement agencies. UN Women have shed light on the horrendous situation of the women in their reports. “It is estimated that of the 87000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50000- 58 per cent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. More than a third (30000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner.” Unfortunately, sexual harassments faced by men were not official countered but daily newspaper reports shedding light on the grim situation of this putrid criminal act.

The list is going on and on and on. The question is why poor people are suffering and their urgent crisis is being ignored? Why is it less important for key players? Are they sons and daughters of lesser-God?

Alas! Do we have any substantive plan to address those immediate challenges, though the United Nations and other related bodies that have introduced the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved? Our trajectory situation is much deeper than we think.

The world population could be too big to feed itself in 30 years from now. According to Edward Wilson, socio-biologist, Harvard University, “If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people.” The food crisis is coming much faster than the climate change, he has warned in his book “The Coming Famine”.

We don’t have sufficient seafood to cater to the market 28 years from now. “The world’s oceans could be virtually emptied of fish by 2048. A study shows that if nothing changes, we will run out of seafood in 2048. If we want to preserve the ecosystems of the sea, change is needed.”

Drinking water is another major challenge we are facing. Most of the countries are already victims of serious drinking water crisis but unfortunately, most people are keeping on discussing what caused damage to drinking water. If this continued, the planet will be out of drinking water in 20 years from now.

We don’t have a constructive plan with decisive actions to protect our rainforests. In 80 years from now, remaining rainforests on the planet will be annihilated. “In the year 2000, half of the world’s rainforest had been wiped out. If we continue the rate of destruction, the rainforests will be gone at the end of the century, according to NASA.”

There are 152 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 working as child labourers. Reports suggested, “The UN Sustainable Development Goals include ending child labour in all its forms by 2025.” But the goal is slipping. According to the International Labor Organisation’s report, “Ending child labour by 2025”, “maintaining the current rate of progress would leave 121 million children still engaged in child labour in 2025”.

Do you know that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history? The reports suggest the gruesome reality of slavery by noting that, “40 million people are living in slavery right now”. Out of this 40 million, 10 millions are children.

We are ending our resources, and replacing them with wastes. “Every year we dump a massive 2.12 billion tons of waste. If all this waste was put on trucks they would go around the world 24 times.” Five plastic garbage patches across the world’s oceans are mounting. It is a matter of a few years where there will be oceans without fishes. “The UN estimates that 51 trillion microplastic particles are present in oceans. That’s 500 times more than the total number of stars in our galaxy.”

Bottom line is that we are running out of everything, but we still pay less serious attention to the true crises. Our policymakers and key players are continued to bark up the wrong trees. Our selfish motivations will not give any chance to future generation to live happily but suffer from unpredictable scenarios. The world requires global disciplinary action to prevent the looming danger.

But, who cares? Today the entire world is paying attention to COVID-19, which is a lesser danger than many issues in our front yards. True, COVID-19 is not a thing of little seriousness, but it still can be tracked and cured in a collective effort based on scientific actions by leaving it to the experts to take required actions. Unfortunately, unnecessary panic and unreasonable doubt are widespread.  Now it is a battle between COVID-19 vs. Panic-2020. Panic-2020 is more dangerous and vicious than the COVID-19.  Unfortunately this has created ambiguity while preventing the opportunity to understand the true picture of COVID-19.  Is this how are we going to end the world?

(The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of any other organisation or employer he is affiliated to.)

Nilantha Ilangamuwa is a Sri Lankan born author. He was the-editor of Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper. He was also the editor of the Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, bi-monthly print magazine, co-published by the Danish Institute Against Torture ( DIGNITY) based in Copenhagen, Denmark.