Harmonising with nature

#GS3 #Environment #Science&Technology

We need to shed some of the chutzpah we seem to have acquired with achievements in science and technology

  • The way society behaves after a crisis can vary significantly. Germany’s abiding obsession with fiscal discipline and aversion to inflation, even today, can be traced to lessons learned during the 1920s, when that country experienced devastating hyperinflation.
  • The 9/11 attacks, and India’s own tragedy of 26/11, altered our perspectives on safety in public spaces, and we have come to accept intrusive security checks as a price we must pay. 
  • Yet, other crises seem to leave no lasting imprint even when they ought to have made a bigger impact. In a world once again awash in cheap funds, lessons from the 2008 financial sector collapse seem forgotten.

Changing our outlook

  • At this scale, the speed of replication and proliferation is astounding and, within a few weeks from its first manifestation, the virus has brought a globally connected economy to a standstill, and endangered the lives of total strangers across all continents.
  • At the same time, almost silently, at the other end of the scale, a slow but perceptible escalation of climate calamities, including more severe storms, more destructive forest fires and faster melting of glaciers, indicate a carbon-emissions-triggered crisis where nature in reacting on a macro scale.
  • There is no doubt progress in science and technology has served humanity well over centuries and they will continue to be called upon to serve society for centuries to come. 
  • What we will need, however, is an outlook that seeks to harness our knowledge of science to work in harmony with nature, rather than attempt to bulldoze it.
  • Wellness advocates have a number of useful suggestions on how we may fortify our natural immunity, even as we await the development and certification of vaccines.
  • In all of this, nature seems to expect of us a certain economy of consumption and gentleness of impact. A human society that is sympathetic to and in harmony with our environment, and where humans listen to and nurture their selves, may be an enduring recipe for a safer future.
  • India has a long heritage of nurturing one’s inner self — yoga and meditation have been adopted globally as exercises for a more robust constitution. 
  • India also has a long tradition of dealing with frugality as a virtue and can easily relate to what in ancient Greece was revered as gaia — dealing with the earth as our mother.


Getting the containment strategy in India right

An effective response must consider not only pathogen behaviour but also socioeconomic and cultural characteristics

  • The novel coronavirus infection is extremely contagious and spreads fast through respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces. 
  • Although a very high proportion of infected individuals (around 85%) have mild symptoms, the sheer number of people infected means that large numbers become seriously ill. 

Unplanned step

  • In India, the lockdown was sudden and not accompanied by effective social security measures.
  • Migrant workers, in their millions, crowded into any available means of transport to return to their homes. No social distancing was possible.
  • Many lakhs walked long distances to return home with little food and water. The morbidity and mortality that this has caused can only be guessed.
  • It is likely that the virus has been carried to the hinterland which was largely protected since the virus was brought into India by air travellers.
  • An effective response in India must consider not only the behaviour of the pathogen but also the socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the country.
  • The primary determinants of disease are mainly economic and social, and therefore its remedies must also be economic and social. Medicine and politics cannot and should not be kept apart.
  • A vaccine will be ready only after the present crisis is over. India does not have the capacity to manage a large number of very sick patients simultaneously and cannot ramp up resources significantly in the short time available.
  • Besides infrastructure, critical-care medicine requires a large number of highly skilled health-care workers. We simply do not have the numbers.
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research performed surveillance of Severe Acute Respiratory Illness at 41 sentinel sites between February 15 and March 19. Diagnostic kits and laboratories equipped to perform the Reverse Transcriptase-Polymerase Chain Reaction test were few.

India’s poor are vulnerable

  • Imposing a lockdown as a means of enforcing social distancing ignores the reality that the poor have no option but to live in densely packed slums and tenements. 
  • Personal hygiene in the form of frequent handwashing is impossible in their present circumstances.
  • The World Bank estimates that there are over 650 million poor people in India (living on less than $3.20). 
  • The current policy of geographical containment may protect the rich and the middle-class, but it ensures rapid spread of the infection among the poor because they have no chance of maintaining the recommended six feet distance.

Learning from success

  • South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan have been successful in containing the disease. South Korea relied on active, free and massive screening, closing schools and recommending remote working.
  • Diagnostic tests were developed early, and laboratory testing capacity was increased. In all these countries, costs are covered by the government.
  • In India, the lockdown has caused severe suffering among the poor, especially migrant workers, and has been unsuccessful in the primary objective of enforcing social distancing. 
  • The reports that over an estimated two lakh migrants returned to Uttar Pradesh after the lockdown is only the most extreme facet of the problem.
  • The lockdown has imposed tremendous economic hardship on the poor, without any important benefit as they cannot practise social distancing or proper personal hygiene. 
  • If the Central government is serious about the containment strategy proposed by the Ministry of Health and saving lives irrespective of social class, it must provide economic and social resources on a massive scale. 
  • It has revealed no such plan. States and individuals cannot handle this crisis on their own.
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