We entered 2020 just as we do in any other year . New year wishes were sent throughout on the midnight of 31st December, 2019. Hardly did we know what was lying ahead . 2020 has been marked as the year of COVID-19, and will definitely be remembered for generations to come. Millions of people across the world suffered, and several of them died. The loss this pandemic has brought to us is irreparable . However, this year made us aware of some serious time bombs ticking away as we rage onwards to development.
A lot of other serious events in this year went unnoticed because of our total attention to the pandemic. There were several events that were pointing towards the next biggest humanitarian crisis lying ahead, i.e., climate change. Not only this, the year brought about some of the extremely serious flaws and problems in our system. The system, because of which the pandemic is not the same for everyone. History has been a witness of how the tragedies have always affected the poor more. But this time, the inequality was brutally high. The wrongs that we’ve been doing for so many years, combined together to make this pandemic far more deadlier.
Climate Change 'The Eye Of The Storm'/Image Credits: foundmyself.com
Major Climate Change Events In 2020
We entered the year with the Australian Bush Fires. The severe intensity of these fires was a cause of the climate change events . Increasing heat over the years , totally dried up the ground. This, accompanied by prolonged drought, led to what we know as Australian bushfires. During the same time, when India and the whole world was paying attention to these fires, there was something worse happening in the part of the world we live in. By January, plagues of locusts had invaded the fields of Gujarat and Rajasthan. This is considered as a precursor of famine, as the insects destroy everything that comes in their path. The events such as unusual rains, cyclonic events and then extended monsoons in the deserts of Arabian Peninsula, east Africa and western Indian states had created an ideal breeding ground for these insects that reproduces exponentially. This disturbed and damaged the livelihood of several farmers, leading to economic crisis in the affected areas. Such economic crises further lead to food shortage and malnutrition. And then, the malnutritioned people definitely are more prone to diseases and become easy victims of pandemics such as COVID. This is how it works. All these events have their roots in climate change. Vandana Shiva, in her book ‘Soil Not Oil : Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis’ writes that,
“ Those least responsible for climate change are worst affected by it. ”
Often we ignore the role of climate change in the area of development. What we fail to understand is that climate change has its links attached to the economy, prosperity, Human Development Index and a lot of other aspects of our society. The worst affected victims of climate change are the poors. Try understanding it with this example. In the month of May, during the COVID lockdown, super-cyclonic storm Amphan hit the eastern side of India. Then, cyclone Nisarga hit the western side of the country. These led to heavy rains in several parts of east and west India, leading to floods. In several parts of our country floods come every year, yet the government and people react as if it has happened all of sudden. The worst part is the urban floods. Slums are worst affected by urban floods. The design of our cities is such that slums are inevitable. Renowned environmentalist Anupam Mishra Ji used to say that water has its own memory. It returns to the place from where it dried up. The dried up lakes and ponds are now converted to residential colonies. This is the reason for urban floods every year in the rainy seasons. These happenings degrade the quality of life of people living in such areas. These floods again come as a massive challenge for the poor, whereas it is not the same for the rich. Adding to their misery, the poor daily wage workers or labourers, who already lost their livelihood to COVID, are now having their homes flooded by dirty and stingy drainage waters. This affects the poor badly and unfortunately they are punished for the wrongs that they haven’t even done.
COVID 19 : The Biased Pandemic
This tragedy too, like all other tragedies that have ever struck upon in the history of mankind, was biased. It was far more brutal for the poor as compared to the rich. How can we ever forget the scenes of thousands of migrant workers walking on the railway tracks for hundreds of kilometres in the summer heat. They were doing so because they had no other option left. Most of these migrants own some land in their villages. Still, they chose to migrate to the cities and lead a life that was so close to actual hell. Corporate hi-jack of the agrarian sector has led towards its destruction. This is forcing lakhs and lakhs of people to abandon their lands and migrate to the cities. These migrants are the ones who are most vulnerable to exploitation. Many of them are finer craftsmen, potters, weavers, etc. Their families have been practising these skills for thousands of years. Despite being extremely talented and with unique skills, these people get nothing for their crafts . These skilled craftsmen are now becoming waiters, labourers and auto-rickshaw drivers in the metropolitan cities. The best part is we are calling this as “skill India”. These migrations are the basis for capitalists to multiply their profits hundred or two hundred times. These all migrations and tragedies of migrations are ultimately triggered to meet the requirements and to serve the capitalists. If migration will be curbed, the number of people for jobs such as labourers, waiters, etc will reduce. This will lead to increased wages of labourers, etc and will become a problem for capitalists. Thus, the migrations are made to exist for the luxury of the rich.
Apart from economic failure, these migrations are leading to overloading of the cities, and hence creating ideal ground for the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID. Also, in urban slums there is a lack of clean water, sanitation, nutritional food and clean air to breathe. These things make their immune system hollow from inside. António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, while delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, said : “The COVID-19 pandemic has played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities. It exposed the myth that everyone is in the same boat. While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in super yachts, while others are clinging to the drifting debris .”
Image Credits: digobo.com
The executive director of the World Food Programme(WFP) in a press conference declared that WFP was running its biggest-ever humanitarian response to provide food to millions. He also gave us some data that was really miserable. In the year 2019 WFP had created a record by assisting 97 million people. And in 2020, it had assisted 138 million people by the month of July. The hunger crisis was severe for those who already were poor and anyhow survived with low wages or external support. The most important thing to be noted is that the geography of hunger remained the same. This means that the pandemic impacted those areas more severely that were already in a crisis. In 2020, west and central Africa saw a 135 percent jump in the number of food-insecure people, whereas in Southern Africa there has been a 90% rise.
Also, we need to note that women are more adversely affected as compared to men. According to the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) and UN Women report, the pandemic has not only increased the poverty rate for women, but has also increased inequality between men and women living in poverty. Earlier, the poverty rate for women was expected to decrease by 2.7 between 2019 and 2021. Instead, it has increased to 9.1% with the coming of the pandemic. Women took the major responsibility of looking after the family as their priority. This was the reason that they earned less and held less secure jobs. The data of the International Labour Organization reveals that by June 2020, 72% of domestic workers lost their job to the pandemic. A very large fraction of domestic workers are women.
Do not forget that at a time when the rich and privileged were sitting in the luxury of their houses, at the same time the poor were either dying on roads or were starving. We must remember it all because it happened in front of us, and in our very own nation that we are proud of. These happenings were totally against the soul of the constitution that promises “equality” to the citizens of India in its preamble itself.
The Flaws in Our Development
Nobel Laureate Dr Amartya Sen rightly points it out that, “A failure of economy and failure of social cohesion was the basis of the failure of pandemic attack as well.” To ensure a socially and medically healthy society there must be an equitable distribution of resources. But in our case the division of resources is totally biased. Our system is totally anti-poor. It seems as if being poor is a crime in this country. The worst part is that despite massive poverty, we are heading for the jobless growth model. In this model of growth, there is an overall economic growth, but there is rise in unemployment. This primarily happens because this model favours more work done by machines, which leads to decrease in demand of the workforce over a period of time. The findings of the latest employment survey, called the Periodic Labour Force Survey (2017-18) reveal that the labour force participation rate (% of people working or seeking work in the above-15 year category) is 49.7%. In 2012, this number was 55.5%. This means that there is an absolute decline in the number of workers from 467.7 million in 2012 to 461.5 million in 2018, all thanks to the jobless growth model. This model is suitable for European nations because they don’t have so much manpower. But in India, we have a massive human workforce, and if we get most of the work done by machines, then unemployment and inequality will keep rising, no matter how much economic growth we achieve. According to the World Inequality Lab Report 2020, in India, the income share of the top 10% grew from 30% in the 1980s to 56% in 2019. If it’s not a dilemma then why is it that India ranked at third position in the world dollar billionaires list, and at the same time it ranked 131st position in the Human Development Index. Number of millionaires is rising in India, and so is the number of poor.
Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that the soul of India lives in its villages. We must not forget that, at a time when all the other sectors were facing economic recession due to lockdown, agriculture was the only sector to witness growth. Another miserable reality is that this sector is the most ignored one by our new age developers. Rural India forms the basis of India’s development. Villages are the one that pave the way for sustainable development. The pain that pandemic gave us could’ve been much more feeble if migrants lived in the village itself, if there would’ve been no urban floods, if there would’ve been equitable resource distribution, if there would’ve been no severe locust attack.
We need to switch to a more sustainable mode of development. People should use the materials manufactured in the local supply chain as much as possible. Cottage industry and Agrarian sector needs to be strengthened to curb the migration and lift up the standard of living among the poor and people living in rural areas. Migrants cause overcrowding in cities, causing a lot of problems including pollution and overexploitation of natural resources. Experts predict that more such pandemics will be coming in future, so we need to strengthen ourselves from within. Private health sector cannot be relied upon. There is an immediate need for good medical infrastructure managed by the public sector. India has lost the luxury of time, and it is time when it must realise its strengths and weaknesses. Blindly imitating the west is just idiotic
NITI Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goals 2019-20 reveals that India ranks at 117th position among 192 nations in the report. The country has slipped by 2 positions in the past year. It is now behind all South Asian nations except Pakistan. The report also suggests that 34.7% of children under 5 years of age are stunted. These figures are a matter of concern. We need to make decisions that suit our social structure and needs. Nature has warned us of our deeds, and if we ignore her warning then it will prove fatal. Remember , fighting climate change is not just limited to planting trees. There is no sphere of our lives that is not linked to climate change. Equality in every sphere forms the basis of the fight against climate change. Chico Mendis, a Brazilian environmentalist said,
“ Environmentalism without class struggle is just gardening ”
By Aryan Pandey
Aryan is a second year BA (Hons.) English student at Hindu College. He is from a small district called Ballia in Eastern UP. Rural India and its problems are the areas that interest him, as he is a part of it. Although, he is a student of English he is an admirer of हिन्दी too.
[The information and data mentioned in the article are taken from Down to Earth’s Annual Report called ‘State of India’s Environment 2021’ . Down to Earth is an initiative of Centre for Science and Environment(CSE)]