Source: The Times of India | Date: March 23, 2020
UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) head Mami Mizutori has been an advocate of a comprehensive approach to deal with disasters, backed by international collaboration. She explains this approach to Pradeep Thakur in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak:
The global attention on Covid-19 is unprecedented. Is this because the rich are more affected?
Like many disease outbreaks, Covid-19 does not distinguish between rich and poor. There is worldwide attention on it because it threatens every country regardless of development status. Disasters affect all, however disasters don’t affect everyone equally and in the case of Covid-19, it is also true. This is why, developed countries with more resources available to respond to the outbreak will need to attend first and foremost to the safety and well-being of their own citizens, but there also must be international support to low- and middle-income countries that are struggling to cope with the outbreak. Pandemics do not recognise borders so a united international response is vital under the leadership and guidance of the World Health Organization.
We have seen Ebola and bird flu. How different is Covid-19?
Covid-19 is not an epidemic confined to a few countries. It has been declared a pandemic by the WHO. There is a crucial difference. The list of countries reporting outbreaks is growing daily. There is no nation on Earth that can claim to be immune from the threat. Thousands have died and many more thousands are fighting for their lives in hospitals around the world. We are still in the early stages of the pandemic. It is urgent that countries which have yet to experience the full brunt of the disease should observe and learn from those who have been most impacted, notably China, Italy, Iran and the Republic of Korea. There are many lessons we can learn from these countries.
How can India effectively deal with risks arising out of disasters?
India has a very robust policy on disaster risk management, and this is evident from its zero tolerance approach to casualties in disaster events and its full embrace of the Sendai Framework. The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, and supported by UNDRR emphasises the importance of public health infrastructure.
India does not see the Covid-19 outbreak as simply a health issue but has taken an all-of-government, all-of-society approach which is very much in the spirit of the Sendai Framework. The public health authorities are working closely with bodies such as the NDMA and government ministries responsible for civil aviation and shipping and the production of textiles including protective materials such as masks.
India is also using mobile technology in a smart way that could be adopted by other countries. Anyone making a mobile phone call must listen to a health message in the language of their choice before their call commences. This is a great way of communicating with a population of 1.3 billion people.
India is also showing leadership at the regional level. I understand also that while the number of cases currently is low, India is stepping up its response and surveillance capacity and mapping its resources. At the same time, it has made donations to a regional response fund and expressed its willingness to help other nations with their response. This is international solidarity of the highest order and I can only commend India for its approach.
Could Europe and the US have handled things better?
Hindsight is a great teacher. The Covid-19 outbreak is a step into the unknown. Nobody could reasonably claim to have been fully prepared for what is unfolding now across the globe. I would like to call attention to a critical observation about the changing nature of risk, which UNDRR highlighted in the Global Assessment of Risk report published in May 2019. GAR 2019 is very clear that risk is increasingly systemic. We are seeing this with Covid-19 rattling the global economy. The only way of fighting systemic risk is with a joined-up systemic prevention and response approach. This means that we cannot work in silos, we must map and model how risk cascades into other risks, and importantly we must be able to work trans-boundary, in a unified fashion and not take nationalistic stances to risks – which, as we very well know, are no respecters of borders.
Many countries have curtailed economic activities. How should governments mitigate the impact?
Poverty eradication is the No 1 sustainable development goal. In this current crisis it is important that provision is made for those who are especially vulnerable. This can take many forms including cash payments, emergency shelter and food distribution programmes. The most important thing is that the poor be consulted about their needs and be included in the response planning process.