Stumbling on blindly

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The World Bank, IMF, ADB, and the UN need to pull their socks up

The World Health Organization has warned that the corona pandemic hasn’t yet peaked. That’s as dire as it gets, except that no one believes them anymore. The UN agency’s credibility has taken such a bashing that will take years of pincer-sharp PR to recover, if at all. 

Australia and Germany are the latest to join the US in saying they want answers to the slowness with which the agency reacted and advised the world. The WHO cuts a solitary, forlorn look as does the United Nations. 

Neither has been able to swing in action to do what they are mandated to. 

Their ineffectiveness has a lot to do with the growing trend among politicians to deride science and statistics. Donald Trump pooh-poohed the World Climate Agreement calling it a hoax of misinformation. And that was irrespective of what the rest of the world leaders said, including Emmanuel Macron. Macron had visions of emerging as the leader of Europe after Angela Merkel’s debacle in home politics led her to announce a long-term plan of retirement. His self-appointed role of broker didn’t work out with Trump, and all has gone quiet since then. 

Jair Bolsonaro is another that believes the pandemic is a creation of the media, leading him to refuse to introduce lockdowns or social distancing in Brazil. He has also fired his health minister for pursuing a path that Bolsonaro abhorred.

As is the case with life in its many manifestations, science isn’t perfect. It goes by the evidence and knowledge available, and scientists advise accordingly. There have been many instances in the past, where scientific findings have been turned on their ears after decades. 

The butter and margarine debate is one for the record. Essentially though, three facts have not been clarified with vigour. Firstly, there is no cure for coronavirus till a vaccine has been developed. Secondly, social distancing and lockdowns can only slow the spread, not stop it. 

Thirdly and perhaps more crucially, the virus has the ability of recurring even in persons that have seemingly been cured. That’s what Japan and South Korea are seeing. 

It’s not unusual for governments to take different strategies to combat the virus. The US went from denial to shutdowns, and is now impatient to open up the economy again. That’s in spite of the highest number of infections and deaths reported by any country. Matters aren’t helped when groups of people still in denial want their freedom of movement and assembly restored, and are spurred on by presidential tweets. The UK is committed to lockdown, as is most of Europe. 

There’s an exception in Sweden, where it has made an appeal to its citizens to stay at home, particularly the most vulnerable, but nothing more. Restaurants, bars, cafes, and the like are still open for business.

Throughout the world, governments are taken up with two issues. Treatment for the infected, along with all the issues of medical supplies and protective equipment, and biting their nails over stagnant economies. The thought of recurrence appears to have dropped from the radar. 

The more well-off countries, late as they all were to react, are scrambling their resources and digging into their reserves to prop up economies. That comes at a great cost, and in the coming years, debt ratios are going to go through the roof. 

It’s the developing countries such as Bangladesh that will really face the pinch. It has taken years to have enough funds to run the country. The $317 billion economy suddenly looks very fragile as almost all sections of business and society seek stimulus and straightforward support from the government. 

This is where multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, ADB, and UN organizations need to pull up their socks in suggesting formulas to help address the very real issues. It’s easy to predict joblessness and famine in the coming years. One hopes these organizations have employed the brains required to support governments in finding workable solutions that match the requirements of ground reality. 

Unless that happens, we shall continue to fight an invisible enemy, and not plan for an uncertain future. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.