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COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities

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Every time we wait for incidents that change the world scenario and its way of thinking. World War-I forced the leaders to form the League of Nations after losing millions of humans to avert new bloody adventures. Similarly, 9/11 attack gathered all nations to combat terrorism. Now, when another challenge has exposed the claims of many nations about being literate, developed and people loving, many of the regimes under popular leaderships have shown their real care for the citizens and vice versa.
The supporters of liberalism have been claiming of coordination, harmony and interdependence, but unfortunately, the reality is at 360 degrees. Recent development during COVID-19, world witnessed it when Italy requested for help to the European countries to fulfill their requirements at the time of need but all in vain as different countries refused to do so. It has proved that realism still exists and at peak. It was more watered when the US stopped funding WHO in the times of crises.
On one side, the pandemic has come up with numerous challenges, but with multiple opportunities at the same time. Pakistan is one of the developing country that has never been serious in digitization of any sector. We never tried to digitize our sectors like education, agriculture, public service offices and building of computerized database. Current COVID-19 has provided us with a chance to review our way forward. We should seriously take this pandemic an opportunity to convert our system to digitalized one.
Human development has never been the priority of developing countries, and due to geo- strategic location of Pakistan, we spent much on defense and less on our people. Pakistan spends 2.6% of GDP on health, one of the lowest in the region. The pandemic posed serious risks and endangered the future of whole humanity. Health sector, even in developed countries could not bear the pressure of the current wave of the virus. For instance, Italy has one doctor for 243 persons, its health sector collapsed in the face of a pandemic. Now considering health issues in Pakistan like shortage of medical staff, equipment, PPEs, and salary issues that made the situation more complex putting our first line of defense i.e. doctors at risk and caused their casualties.
Now, since the situation has worsened and it is the time to reform our health department by increasing budget, training staff, providing equipment and bringing technology into action to counter the virus and situations alike in future. Along with training of medical staff, government needs to create public awareness in the context to cater the situation.
Rightly quoted by Daron Acemoglu that geography, culture and locations are not the reason of deprivation, but the leadership is. Considering recent developments during the COVID-19, it has proven Pakistani leadership a non-visionary, when whole world leaders were opposing the export of medical equipment, and medicine, Pakistan was amongst those who did it while they were in need themselves. Pakistan’s confused strategy has fired the fuel in spreading corona and created war like situation. Pakistan’s top leadership and its opposition leaders have been settling their political scores and trying to get public attention. The confused strategy not only brought fear and anxiety but stress and distress along with anger and confusion in the public. Despite the fact that the decision was difficult, to choose between danger and hunger, but the government made very late and irresponsible decisions.
Education sector in Pakistan worked as business and wealth making machine instead of innovation and nation building. We never tried to modernize the educational system and never invested in it. Cramming culture in Educational institutions instead of innovation seems clear when we needed digitalization the most. Online classes that are now being forced all of sudden, now resulting in dissatisfaction of students because of the lack of the facilities and awareness. Our government never paid any heed to reform our educational sector. In Pakistan, only 33% of the population has access to internet despite the fact about 65% of the youth population.
Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, 65% of our population linked with it; directly or indirectly. Despite of the fact, huge population linked to agriculture, our government never paid any heed towards digitalizing it through reforms. Now, in the time of cessation of human activity, it is the agriculture sector, which is majorly contributing to nation’s treasure and keeping business activities alive. It is high to reform the sector by digitizing it and bringing it to formalized business; starting with the digitalizing taxation system to get the tax paid in national exchequer.
Recent reports suggest that the climate change would badly affect the region and make in unlivable in coming years. Increased temperatures decreased timely rains and many such factors are witnessing that ecosystem is collapsing. The climate change not only affecting our animals but humans as well, in 2016, more than 0.6 million children died due to air pollution.
The pandemic has given a chance the universe to heal, review the Paris agreement and act on it accordingly. Leadership needs to contribute to it by playing their part to complete their duties for the sake of the coming generations. There might be greater dangerous and diseases due to such many viruses which might be affecting humanity. Thus World needs to think about it and join hands to contribute towards the safety of humanity.
For any project, program and agenda to support a huge population, it is the gathered data, which decides its success because decisions are made accordingly. After the pandemic appeared and the government made the decision of lockdown in a country like Pakistan where people had to decide between lives and livelihoods, most of people were eager to choose livelihoods over lives because of the existing poverty.
Pakistan where the majority of the population lives below poverty line, the government considered distributing of some amount amongst the deserving citizens. Unfortunately, the data on which the amount being distributed is incomplete and it deprived many deserving people.
In times of crises like current pandemic, the best and the most effective tool to counter it is local administration or local governments. Pakistan always lacked in the devolution of powers because of the local politics of Pakistan. It has never been empowered to face such crisis. Instead of creating new force; called Tiger force to counter COVID-19, government should have released funds for the local government and the responsibility should be given to them. The new data of deserving people need to be formed with the help of LG representatives, which could be used in future in times of crises.
Due to lack of facilities, rural people have migrated to urban areas in bulk, which has put a great pressure on urban facilities and created huge imbalance. Now when the pandemic has forced people to go back to their villages for safety, it is government’s responsibility to come up with a plan to reduce this gap and provide better facilities in rural areas. It is better to extend the facilities to rural areas so that people may live in better environments where they can have access to all facilities including internet, electricity and gas.
Apart from many economic aspects, one of the major social impact of COVID-19 is increasing domestic violence. As per recent reports 65% increase in cases of domestic violence were reported amid pandemic. Similarly, the rise in divorce cases reported from China. Now since the social impacts have started to grow, it is necessary for governments to start awareness sessions for masses about stress management. Not only awareness sessions, but also tele-clinics should be established which may provide 24/7 services to public.
The sudden rise in COVID-19 cases and closure of business has caused a huge loss to the world economy especially in developing countries. It will cause un-employment, poverty, rampant corruption and crime. The International Labor Organization predicts 5 million to 25 million jobs will be eradicated, and $860 billion to $3.4 trillion will be lost in labor income. Now, until corona is there, the world needs to shift business mindset from traditional to digital one. Our government has a responsibility to create an environment such that people may do their business through digital means and save jobs and keep businesses alive. Every challenge brings with it an opportunity.
The pandemic has brought a great challenge, but an even bigger opportunity to change our priorities. In the middle of a crisis; economic, domestic, and social, it is high time to reconsider the way forward. Government needs to provide with facilities to digitalize and formalize the economy.
First and foremost thing is to change the mindset and create awareness among the masses and providing them with facilities to compete in digital market. Already contracting economy will result in deteriorated health facilities. Government should shift its focus to health facilities by investing in it and provide every individual, basic health facilities. Local government empowerment should be a priority so that the crises may be managed properly.