This is the first time a common enemy is attacking the whole planet, all human beings, but we did not act together in any kind of common way. Covid-19 has revealed the weaknesses in the global economy and our societies but has also given us an opportunity to protect the world from its suicidal path. The post-Covid world needs an outrageously bold vision. For the rich world, we would say that this proposed act of human solidarity to ensure that medicines and vaccines get to the whole human family simultaneously is in their own self-interest, not just an act of charity. Surely nobody will want the virus persisting in many parts of the poor world ready to re-infect the rich world and create new surges where they were under the pleasant thought that they had protected themselves from pandemics.
(Prof. M. Yunus, Nobel Peace Laureate)
Sheltered in this tranquil, magic Far East land, I follow developments across the globe, in particular the Covid-19 onslaught, and now with new mutations and variations. And whenever I shared information on the global pandemic with communities across my country our simple people are confused about how the mighty powers of the world are literarily down on their knees.
One year since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the overall situation throughout most of the world has deteriorated, hospitals and hospital staff are overwhelmed, the virus spread and made a comeback with a vengeance where it was initially subjugated and premature victory declared. In the US alone more than 400,000 died and counting. Worldwide the numbers are numbing, over 100 million infected, 2 million deaths, over 50 million recovered but many live with Covid related effects, from mild to severe. Economies are in tatters with staggering social toll, millions throwing back into poverty.
We are among the lucky few in the world without Covid-19 fatalities and so far without community transmission. We couldn’t have done it alone. The UN system, WHO, UNDP, UNICEF and WFP, China, the US Embassy, Japan, and the European Union, Cuban and Australian volunteer doctors, all assisted and worked closely with our own health officials and others in other branches of the State quickly developed policies, put in place testing labs, quarantine facilities and Covid treatment clinics.
Much credit is due to WHO for initiatives it launched to ensure an equitable share of vaccines. To accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, WHO devised the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, made possible through global collaboration, bringing together governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, philanthropists and global health organizations to ensure equitable distribution of these global public goods especially to low income and lower-middle-income countries.
COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the ACT Accelerator, is co-led by WHO, GAVI and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and supports the research, development, manufacturing and negotiation of fair pricing for a wide range of Covid-19 vaccine candidates to ensure participating countries, regardless of income levels, have equal access to Covid-19 vaccines for which it has committed to secure 2 Billion doses by end of 2021.
As of now, 186 countries (85% of the world’s population) have joined the facility. Timor-Leste is one of the 92 Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries assured of receiving the first 20% vaccines at no cost for the priority target group. In addition vaccines for 80% population are being procured through COVAX as it may prove more cost-effective. In a show of leadership and solidarity with its neighbors, the Prime Minister of Australia the Hon. Scott Morrison, pledged A$500 million to ensure that vaccines and other Covid related medical needs are made accessible to all Australia’s neighbors.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Prof. Muhammad Yunus’ Global Campaign for declaring the Covid-19 vaccine as a global common good, was signed by 25 Noble Laureates, 41 Former Heads of State and Government and 87 world-leading business leaders, activists, artists, and academics, including the general population from at least 136 countries.
But we should take our mind away from Covid-19 and think of fellow human beings in other realities, the daily misery and agony of the millions dying each year of malaria, dengue, tuberculosis, HIV, waterborne illnesses and more. For them, the focus on the Covid pandemic has meant less share of State budgets and less share of international aid. For these children of God, there was never serious investment in research towards malaria and dengue vaccine. After all, this is a problem of the tropics, particularly of those hundreds of millions barely surviving in the poor barrios, isolated towns and villages away from the comfort of Western citadels.
Speaking on the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wanted us to feel good about the state of the world because according to him major powers have not engaged in full-scale war since 1945. Major powers use proxies to do the killing and then pretend they are immaculately innocent.
Tellingly meetings of the mighty of the world, the G7, G20 and UN Security Council, and celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the UN, are held in virtual bunkers, a humbling acknowledgment of the failure of global leadership and inadequacies of regional and multilateral institutions.
The decades of 1945-2020 are littered with wars of aggression, civil wars, massacres and genocide - the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the sideshow war in Cambodia, upon which more bombs were dropped by US forces than the tonnage of bombs dropped on European cities during WWII. Fast forward to our times.
The wars in the Middle East, Syria, Libya and Yemen, are continuing but no longer making headlines if they ever occupied much of our daily diet of news. These tragedies have something in common, they are fueled by weapons exports from the US, Russia, France, UK and China, the privileged five of the world’s obsolete collective security that has failed miserably in preventing or ending minor and major conflicts or failing in upholding even their moral duty, protection of civilians.
Our world is adrift, leaderless. Global challenges are not met with adequate preventative soft power strategies and action. Hard power tools available to the mightily rich of the world are not lawfully applied because the powers that could make a difference between war and peace are too busy squandering resources in narrow, selfish rivalries, each bent on regional influence and supremacy. And by playing these centuries-old gambles they drag countries and peoples into endless wars.
According to Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, every year in the last two decades the annual wealth of the world has increased by $30 trillion dollars. And yet hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings in the global South do not have access to clean water, this nature’s treasure that is fast becoming a scarcity in cities and countries across the world.
Time to time, Al Jazeera or the BBC inconvenience the middle class and upper classes in Northern and Southern Hemispheres, wake them from their moral hibernation with heart-wrenching stories of child labor and child slavery in South Asia, Africa and Latin America, of scenes of emaciated mothers and their dying babies somewhere in Yemen or in Congo.
Shockingly there is never enough budget or aid money for clean water and sanitation, for sustainable agriculture, food security and child and mother nutrition. There is never enough money for universal health care and fully equipped hospitals in most of the global South. But there is always money for fleets of presidential jets to fly VIP coquetries for shopping sprees in Europe.
Those who claim entitlement to a place of honor in the UN Security Council, G7 and G20, have not shown the required wisdom and leadership to forge regional and global partnerships for action to resolve the many man-made catastrophes plaguing entire communities and nations across the globe.
Nuclear and conventional arsenals are intact and aspiring nuclear weapons club members are lining up. Leaders of the mightiest armies and wealthiest economies whose nuclear arsenals are capable of blowing up Planet Earth several times over are humiliated by a virus that has managed to lodge in the highly protected bunkers of the rich and powerful.
A non-complex enemy is exposing global leadership failure and inadequacies in our multilateral and regional institutional constructions. Leaders of nuclear and non-nuclear powers waste trillions of dollars in ever more sophisticated weapons systems were caught unprepared and unable to respond collectively against this global public health challenge.
On a positive note, the frightening speed of the spread of Covid-19 has been matched by an equally extraordinary speed in the development of vaccines by scientists and pharmaceutical companies across the world. Let’s pay genuine tribute to the unsung heroes, scientists, doctors, nurses, lab equipment technicians, ambulance drivers and hospital sanitation personnel.
But sadly as vaccines are churned out in the US and Europe the first recipients of these benefits of science are obviously the peoples of the richer world, in particular North Americans and Europeans.
Likewise, trillions of dollars in economic and social rescue packages adopted by the US Congress, the EU, and Japan were meant for their citizens while the billions of peoples living in the periphery see their miserable life and meager survival incomes evaporated as governments imposed lockdowns and as industrial output, international trade and investments are reduced to the bare minimum or stopped altogether in some countries.
Even in the face of tens of millions of fellow human beings thrown back into the agony of poverty most creditor countries and banks refused to write off the debt of the now critically impoverished countries. You might be shocked, that in my country interests charged by the foreign banks operating here averages 14% per annum, 14%! And they haven’t had the decency to freeze interest payments through this pandemic and global recession.
Those who signed the Call for vaccines as a common good, to be made free for all, as with appeals on expanding foreign aid and debt write off believed that this pandemic and its economic and social costs should unite all, rich and power, North and South, are disappointed. We had a chance, we still have a chance, to wake up, to stand up, to unite, rich and poor, North and South, as a Human Family, around the higher purpose of solidarity, of humanity.
We share the same Planet, but we live in different global villages, most survive in slums, a few live in Alice in Wonderland palatial homes, but we all are vulnerable to this and many other insidious viruses and bacterias.
Eventually among the wretched legions living in the periphery a medically calculated percentage will be inoculated. But those in the rich North and the ostentatiously rich in the poor South certainly realize that if the poor billions of this shared planet are not immunized, eventually the ills afflicting them will transition into and wreck comfort zones of the rich. And if the global South is not supported in meaningful ways to recover their livelihoods, no walls will be thick and high enough to prevent millions of destitute and desperate from flocking to the privileged North.
The damage done by President Trump to international relations, alliances and multilateral bodies that were built and perfected over many decades, through many US Administrations, is deep and will take a truly enlightened leader to reset the clock.
President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris give us hope, assure us, that the US will strive to be an enlightened global power that will lead in times of challenges not by coercion and threats but by building coalitions towards common solutions and common good.
Globally the US will reengage with old relationships shattered by Trump, reenergize multilateralism to address the global economic and social catastrophe caused by Covid-19 and the economic meltdown and return to an international rules-based world.
Domestically the two enlightened leaders will have to try to heal the deep wounds of the American society and unite the incredibly rich American ethnic, cultural and religious tapestry. Easier said than done but this is not an insurmountable challenge.
Last but not least…
- World’s financial institutions, creditors nations and commercial banks, must write off the debt of all Least Developed Countries and of the so-called “Highly Indebted Countries”. Relieved from the debt burden, countries should double budget allocation for education and health, child nutrition, food security, employment creation, fostering of small business and agriculture, green energy and blue economy.
- Weapons exports to all developing countries be stopped for the next 10 years. During this time, regional and multilateral bodies should work towards a comprehensive ban on exports of heavy offensive weapons to regions and countries in conflict.
- Worldwide mandatory end of torture and a 10-year moratorium on the death penalty. During this time, regional and multilateral organizations should work towards the global prohibition of the death penalty.
Move further on Paris Agreement, set more ambitious targets of CO2 emission and temperature warming consistent with the latest alarming reports from the scientific community.
We cannot expect that governments alone shoulder the responsibility to mobilize resources to finance the costs of a peoples centered global economic recovery.
If we really feel like one family, I issue a challenge to my wealthier fellow family members around the world – to nourish and strengthen the health of the entire family, and in doing so to lift the survival potential of all, including you and your loved ones, with a modern-day Marshall Plan.
This requires a global vision and the combined support of all, the G7+G20 and the concurrence of the following:
- 10000 biggest banks in the world
- 10000 biggest companies
- 10000 richest men and women
- 10000 richest foundations
- 10000 richest universities
- 10000 richest churches
to invest in sustainable agriculture, clean energy, clean water, education and health, as well as providing resources to build modern clinics and hospitals, science and medical research institutes, create meaningful jobs in every country in the world.
Some will say I am naive, that I am proposing the undoable. To them, I will say: Please spare me your old platitudes of realism and pragmatism. They brought us this mess.
The luxury of reflection on our connectedness is only of value if it is followed by a plan of action to lift the state of our connected world in tangible ways.
Anything less will continue to leave us all blindsided, while the economies of the West are buoyed by weapons sales and the death of innocent women and children on the other side of this world we share.