Covid Cooperation: United We Survive

Covid Cooperation: United We Survive

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As the world is humbled by the Global Pandemic Covid-19, the turn of events in last couple of months is going to be etched in our memories for life time.  In matter of weeks discourses have changed from Finland’s all female coalition Government and India’s citizenship act to ‘the end of days’. These are drastic times that call for drastic measures. Draconian or democratic, all measures are intended to contain the virus. For some countries like China and Singapore, the situation has improved for good while others like Italy and Iran are still bracing for the worst. In these hard times, there has been several examples of selfless service, social solidarity and cooperation, which gives humanity a ray of hope that we will overcome this. 

One such example is the initiative by SAARC nations to come together collectively to combat the pandemic. Analysts in past have termed SAARC as the South Asian Zombie, for continuing to operate but without making any progress towards their mandates. Marred by conflicting interests, fragile structure and mistrust by member nations, it remained mostly dysfunctional.  The pandemic, however, instigated collective endeavour by member countries. The initiative led to the establishment of COVID-19 Emergency Fund with voluntary contribution from most of the member states. Country commitments included assembling Rapid Response Team of doctors, setting up an integrated disease surveillance portal and propositions including creation of common research platform and SAARC Ministerial-level group. 

It is imperative for SAARC nations to come together to jointly respond to Corona pandemic. South Asia has nearly a quarter of the world’s population with only 3.5% of the landmass. The average population density is 380 people /sq Km as against the global average of 25 people. With one of the highest population density, widespread poverty and lack of adequate health and sanitation facilities, it will be very difficult to check the contagion if it reaches stage 3 i.e. community transmission.

The four stages of transmission being, Stage 1 imported cases where transmission is by people travelling abroad; Stage 2 local transmissions, is when people are infected by those who have a travel history to the countries affected by the epidemic; Stage 3 Community Transmission happens when the infected person has not come in contact with anyone who has a travel history to the affected country; and, Stage 4 Epidemic or the last stage of an outbreak.  

Countries including Pakistan with 734 cases and 233 new cases in last 24 hours and India with 332 total cases and 83 new cases in last 24hrs (as on 22/03/2020) is pacing towards stage 3. Sri Lanka with 77, Afghanistan and Bangladesh with 24 cases each are also on alert. 

Rural transmission can be really scary in the region because of two reasons — (1) inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure which is absolutely important for preventive measures, and (2) inadequate health facilities in rural areas for curative measures. While these countries are dealing with stage 2 containment, simultaneous efforts should also be taken to expand preparedness for COVID response in rural geographies for stage 3 and 4 transmissions as well.

Government of India’s Nationwide mock drill on Govt Hospital preparedness for COVID-19 response planned on March 22 should also focus on preparedness for a rural outbreak response and plan contingency measures for the worst case scenario. 

COVID-19 has exposed us all to many realities which we have had conveniently ignored so far. Disaster knows no boundaries. The intrinsic linkages between countries, rooted to geopolitics, demography, socio-economic and cultural ties, can lead to the trophic cascade affecting the whole region adversely. It cannot be managed in isolation and therefore disaster management needs a transboundary approach.

Learning from the experience of COVID-19, India should revisit its recently drafted National Disaster Management Plan and rewrite its chapter on International cooperation from a transboundary and regional cooperation approach.

The second takeaway from COVID-19 Response, as it has brought countries together to share solidarities and jointly act by closing its borders, in the same manner, they should with the same urgency cooperate to join hands on climate emergency, which is also a stark reality with existential threat to human race unless collective actions are taken. Forged in crisis, let this cooperation framework be durable, bringing peace and prosperity in the region.

On this World Water Day, let us hope that the solidarity prevails beyond COVID and through the transboundary rivers, trade or culture or anything and everything else that can be a conduit for cooperation, peace and prosperity. 

As the world is humbled by the Global Pandemic Covid-19, the turn of events in last couple of months is going to be etched in our memories for life time.  In matter of weeks discourses have changed from Finland’s all female coalition Government and India’s citizenship act to ‘the end of days’. These are drastic times that call for drastic measures. Draconian or democratic, all measures are intended to contain the virus. For some countries like China and Singapore, the situation has improved for good while others like Italy and Iran are still bracing for the worst. In these hard times, there has been several examples of selfless service, social solidarity and cooperation, which gives humanity a ray of hope that we will overcome this. 

One such example is the initiative by SAARC nations to come together collectively to combat the pandemic. Analysts in past have termed SAARC as the South Asian Zombie, for continuing to operate but without making any progress towards their mandates. Marred by conflicting interests, fragile structure and mistrust by member nations, it remained mostly dysfunctional.  The pandemic, however, instigated collective endeavour by member countries. The initiative led to the establishment of COVID-19 Emergency Fund with voluntary contribution from most of the member states. Country commitments included assembling Rapid Response Team of doctors, setting up an integrated disease surveillance portal and propositions including creation of common research platform and SAARC Ministerial-level group. 

It is imperative for SAARC nations to come together to jointly respond to Corona pandemic. South Asia has nearly a quarter of the world’s population with only 3.5% of the landmass. The average population density is 380 people /sq Km as against the global average of 25 people. With one of the highest population density, widespread poverty and lack of adequate health and sanitation facilities, it will be very difficult to check the contagion if it reaches stage 3 i.e. community transmission.

The four stages of transmission being, Stage 1 imported cases where transmission is by people travelling abroad; Stage 2 local transmissions, is when people are infected by those who have a travel history to the countries affected by the epidemic; Stage 3 Community Transmission happens when the infected person has not come in contact with anyone who has a travel history to the affected country; and, Stage 4 Epidemic or the last stage of an outbreak.  

Countries including Pakistan with 734 cases and 233 new cases in last 24 hours and India with 332 total cases and 83 new cases in last 24hrs (as on 22/03/2020) is pacing towards stage 3. Sri Lanka with 77, Afghanistan and Bangladesh with 24 cases each are also on alert. 

Rural transmission can be really scary in the region because of two reasons — (1) inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure which is absolutely important for preventive measures, and (2) inadequate health facilities in rural areas for curative measures. While these countries are dealing with stage 2 containment, simultaneous efforts should also be taken to expand preparedness for COVID response in rural geographies for stage 3 and 4 transmissions as well.

Government of India’s Nationwide mock drill on Govt Hospital preparedness for COVID-19 response planned on March 22 should also focus on preparedness for a rural outbreak response and plan contingency measures for the worst case scenario. 

COVID-19 has exposed us all to many realities which we have had conveniently ignored so far. Disaster knows no boundaries. The intrinsic linkages between countries, rooted to geopolitics, demography, socio-economic and cultural ties, can lead to the trophic cascade affecting the whole region adversely. It cannot be managed in isolation and therefore disaster management needs a transboundary approach.

Learning from the experience of COVID-19, India should revisit its recently drafted National Disaster Management Plan and rewrite its chapter on International cooperation from a transboundary and regional cooperation approach.

The second takeaway from COVID-19 Response, as it has brought countries together to share solidarities and jointly act by closing its borders, in the same manner, they should with the same urgency cooperate to join hands on climate emergency, which is also a stark reality with existential threat to human race unless collective actions are taken. Forged in crisis, let this cooperation framework be durable, bringing peace and prosperity in the region.

On this World Water Day, let us hope that the solidarity prevails beyond COVID and through the transboundary rivers, trade or culture or anything and everything else that can be a conduit for cooperation, peace and prosperity. 

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Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA)

A programme to understand and address challenges related to transboundary rivers and communities in these river basins.

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