Our lives have changed forever. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding, a number of changes, both in terms of collateral damage and co-benefits of the fight against the virus, have already started digging their heels in.
With deaths and suffering being the immediate ugly face of the disaster, here are six impacts of the pandemic that will transform our lives in the long run:
1. The environment is cleaner since the lockdowns kicked in, and may never get as bad as before.
Almost everyone has noticed the bluer skies, cleaner air, brighter moon and stars and louder birdsongs, and we have seen images of cleaner rivers and forgotten views of the mountains. While fears of pollution returning are certain to come true once the restrictions ease, some benefits will stay on. A large number of city travellers who have been on the edge, hesitant to shift to work from home, online meetings and online learning, have taken the plunge and there will be no going back.
The benefits of time and costs, both of travel and infrastructure, will make more economic sense now that they have been tasted and the initial mental barrier of such cultures has been crossed across organisations.
Exposure to the current experience may also help generate greater traction for efforts to reduce air pollution than ever before.
2. The number of deaths from various other causes will go down this year, and in the years to come.
Despite the ongoing fatalities due to the disease caused by the new coronavirus, reduction in mortality rates arising from various other reasons is certain to go down. For instance, over 12,000 lives are lost to road accidents each month in India, and this number is bound to come down drastically during the extended lockdown.
A much deeper and long-lasting impact can be expected in the context of some other mass killers, for example, diarrhea and pneumonia that kill 300,000 children each year. Improved hygiene levels, social distancing and upgrading of health services across all parts of the country are bound to reduce the burden of these diseases, leading to sustained reduction in death rates in the times to come.
Spitting in public has been finally declared a crime, hitting at the heart of a social ill we have struggled unsuccessfully for long to address. Care for the elderly based on an understanding of their high vulnerability, protection of wildlife habitats knowing their importance as buffers in our ecosystem, and curbs on trade and consumption of wildlife are some other positive impacts that we can expect to rise from lessons learnt from the COVID-19 experience.
A culture of forming queues with physical distancing may bump up civic sense that we sometimes lack while waiting for our turn in day to day affairs.
3. The complexity of disasters will be better understood, triggering higher preparedness levels.
While the academic world has been talking about complex disasters, pandemics, climate-induced disasters and mega disasters for long, the seriousness of these concepts has failed to dent political will as well as public actions. COVID-19 has perhaps made each person on earth sit up and take notice of how fragile our lives and lifestyles are on one hand, and how unpredictable and powerful natural hazards are on the other.
This year all other naturally triggered disasters including floods, droughts, cyclones and earthquakes will join forces with COVID-19. This is certain to lead to more reflection, research, better preparedness, sensitive decision making and forthcoming public support for disaster risk reduction in the months and years to come.
Having seen the impact on local communities and the critical role of local governments, perhaps we may also see greater recognition of sub-national players in decision-making, resulting in greater devolution of power and resources.
COVID-19 has given a loud and clear message that we are a society and not an economy.
4. Economic rebalancing and its ill effects.
A small virus has brought the world’s leading economies to their knees. A great recession is being forecast. Different countries will recover at different paces, some emerging winners in the race and some losers. Fragile societies and economies will take longer to come out of the pandemic’s impacts, and will lose on a number of fronts.
For many, debts will mount beyond manageable levels, and assistance will be difficult to come by in an entire world reeling from the secondary impacts of the pandemic, the lockdowns and the shrunk demand for goods and services. Support that may come may be sinister, and may trigger a new age colonialism.
Ambitious powers may try to take military advantage while the world is in crisis. Power games at many levels are certain to emerge from this global crisis.
5. Social distancing in the true sense, creating rifts between people.
While there are voices trying to push the idea of physical distancing and social cohesion instead of the commonly used term ‘social distancing’, the wheels of a social divide have already been set in motion.
Slums and low-income settlements are marked as high-risk areas as the disease can spread rapidly in these densely populated colonies. Unfortunately, these are the very colonies that supply goods and services at the bottom of the pyramid, and are the unsung heroes of India’s vibrant informal sector that has already been under pressure.
The plight of migrant workers has made headlines in this disaster. Ostracisation of the poor who enable the urban Indian family’s visible affluence while remaining invisible and who live in squalor for no fault of theirs is a given. They are already beginning to take the hit economically and socially.
Urban planners will try to find ways of making cities more liveable and just through population redistribution, optimization of open spaces, and infrastructure that allows physical distancing, but the negative social impact of perceptions created by the pandemic will be hard to undo.
6. Social distancing will lead to deteriorating psychological health
While social distancing is the need of the hour and every responsible citizen should practice it during this time of crisis, it may have severe psychological health implications among people.
Social interaction is one of the major essentials for human survival and there is no denial of this fact therefore lack of the same during this lockdown situation may lead to increase in issues like anxiety, stress, hypertension, irritation, etc.
Moreover, uncertainty of how things may unfold in future may further aggravate these issues among many.
(Edited by Apoorva Puranik)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
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