Since the turn of the century, humankind went through three seismic events: the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001; the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers that triggered the worst financial crisis in living memory; and the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The attack on the Twin Towers was a politically motivated event with economic undertones, mainly on the travel and tourism sectors. The emergence of low-cost travel and the radical overhaul of security measures in airports are two factors that know their origin to that fateful day. The September 11 attacks also resulted in major wars, political upheaval and unrest in different parts of the globe. It resulted in a sustained increase in terrorist attacks.
The collapse of Lehman Brothers was an economic event with immense social undertones. Six million jobs were lost in the United States pushing up unemployment by 10%. The impact was so massive that it was felt around the world. Greece and other countries were pushed towards financial ruin.
We are now living through the third major crisis. It is too early to determine what the repercussions of COVID-19 are going to be. It is said, however, that the world’s economy is going to take a huge knock with IMF pointing to a possible meltdown equal to the Great Depression.
We are starting to see some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Moving forward, we should look at how the world reacted to the two previous seismic events. What lessons can we learn from the aftermath of the previous two events?
The first important lesson is that change of this magnitude is irreversible. Life will never be the same again. We are heading towards a new norm. It is a new norm that will redefine how we live, interact and do business. Our businesses have to adapt to these new norms. In the process, there will be winners and losers.
The second lesson is that global events require global solutions. A global solution is one that is arrived at with the involvement of every nation and benefits every nation. Non-global solutions, that is solutions that put the interest of one country or a group of countries interests over the interests of the rest, will simply create new problems and move the international community away from the elusive goal of universal peace and security.
The third lesson is that solutions cannot be based simply on economic or financial considerations. Socio-political considerations are, at the very least, equally important as are environmental considerations. The root of political unrest is hunger and poverty as a result of environmental degradation. Political unrest is fuelling terrorism, war, irregular migration which, in turn, creates more widespread political unrest. If we are to break this cycle, we need holistic solutions. Trying to stop irregular migration without attacking the root cause of the problem will not work.
If we want to transform the current Coronavirus challenge into an opportunity, we can and should learn from these experiences and apply them as we go forward. From now on, we are going to be conditioned by the threat of pandemics. We therefore need a global solution, a global response to ensure a better handling of future breakouts. The solution should cater to various aspects of the problem. How can we improve our health care systems to deal with such emergencies? How can we strengthen our financial and economic institutions to lessen the impact on jobs and businesses? How can we speed up the process of identifying cures and vaccines? How can we improve life in lockdown situations, to limit stress on segments of the population and on businesses? How can we improve mankind’s immunity system? These are the kind of questions that need to be asked and tackled by communities, at a national level but most of all globally.
There is also another essential dimension that is particular to this crisis. Coronavirus has effectively reduced pollution globally. The extent of this reduction has not yet been calculated but the severe reduction in travel by air, car and other modes of transport has resulted in a decrease in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions across continents and countries. It is impossible, certainly in the short run, to sustain this level of reduction in pollution once economic activity returns to the new normal. However, now that we know that it is possible for the world to function differently, can we make it our aim, our goal, to seriously tackle the Sword of Damocles that has been hanging over our collective heads for the past decades? I am referring, of course, to global warming. The change was forced on us. We need to make part of that change permanent. We need it to ensure our survival and the survival of other species on this planet.
Change is never easy, more so when it comes in the form of a pandemic. But we can, indeed we must take away positives from a negative. This is another chapter in the evolution of humankind. It is a chapter that will continue in the years to come. Let us be prepared for it. Let us not fear it but use it to better ourselves. Let this calamity bind us and forge us closer together. For this is the most important lesson of all. Together makes us stronger.