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The Economy, Environment and Pandemic

Vanessa Smith

The crisis of 2020 has brought about new interests in how the spread of diseases around the world travel and are managed. What the COVID-19 epidemic has shown us is that an epidemic is comprised of many different factors which not only cause its spread but trigger its proliferation and management.

The global pandemic links factors such as health, social, global supply chains, geopolitics, research, and governance as part of a complex set of issues that attribute to its effects, spread, and management. Often not the center of our discussion, though, is the health of the environment and our well-being. A focus on global epidemics and climate change, disease, and deforestation is more important than ever for us to understand. A UN report is clear, concluding how important the well-being of the planet and ecosystems is to us, how “critical the relationship healthy environment and healthy people, and how human activities often undermine the long-term health and ability of ecosystems to support human well-being.”

The field of environmental sustainability and conservation, climate change and ecosystem degradation, and the relation to disease outbreak are particularly important to explore as we continue to understand more and more the role Mother Nature has on diseases, outbreak, control, and proliferation.

A study published in Nature analyzed the spatial and temporal correlations between malaria Nyssorhynchus darlingi and deforestation and degradation of the forest in the Amazon biome and concluded in its research which “emphasize not only that deforestation promotes malaria incidence, but also that it directly or indirectly results in a low Human Development Index, and favors environmental conditions that promote malaria vector proliferation” (L. Chaves, J. Conn, R. L√≥pez et al.). What we can learn from this type of study is still being explored as it applies to the global COVID-19 epidemic, and gives us significant clues to how disease and nature operate.

With economists projecting in June an economic contraction on average of 5% ( IMF reports 4.9%, the World Bank forecasts 5.2%) and falling 1.9% below the WEO (World Economic Outlook) of April, at the heart of the global economic discussion are human, social dimensions and geopolitics, which trigger how much or little our economy will be ostensibly affected.

Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights articulates in a report that “COVID-19 is projected to push hundreds of millions into unemployment and poverty while increasing the number at risk of acute hunger by more than 250 million.”

The alarming number of people on this planet suffering from hunger in poverty is nothing short of a human crisis. Climate change affects people in developing regions and the extreme poor the hardest, and forces hundreds of millions of people into hunger, food insecurity, and deprived of all basic human rights and dignity. Climate change is in fact, the single most important issue the world faces, affecting the economy and people in ways in which, if business as usual, will lead us to the defeat of our civilization and leaving us with a somber and glim outlook of our very own existence.

What we are learning is that disease crosses many boundaries, all of which are interwoven. Social dimensions and geopolitics have, for example, set the United States and Europe apart considerably in response, management, and containment of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Europe has stuck to a clear path and a cohesive plan amongst its countries: wear a mask, quick to shut down, and slow to reopen. The issue was not politicized and they stuck to science and data to make their decisions. The United States, on the other hand, left the decisions for each state to handle without a mutual agreement, making it difficult to bring the whole country to the same level at the same time. The issue was politicized, too. Lack of leadership setting us on a roadmap to recovery has been also clearly missing.

As COVID-19 numbers continue to fluctuate in the United States, and Europe sees its pathway to recovery much more clearly, we can see a clear indication of how much human and social factors, politics and policy, have on our lives and our economy.

With that much known, we can also draw the line between the environment and diseases, and what opens up an optimistic hope for the continued discussion on how society, environment and the economy are tightly woven together, and how this should be part of a broader and deeper engagement on our global well-being, and considered altogether in a systems-model approach when tackling not only crisis such as the pandemic and social justice, but the environment and economy as well.

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