Jeff Schlegelmilch is the Director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute spoke about Responding to Global Emergencies and Best Practices from COVID-19. There is a very uneven experience with Covid-19 that is driven by ecological conditions to the natural spread of the disease to population density and movement, seasonal effects that aren’t fully understood as well as within communities themselves.
According to the report by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the data shows that marginalized communities are historically disenfranchised or bearing a disproportionate burden of the Covid-19 disease. In New York, there is an outsized number of cases among African Americans and Hispanic and Latino populations compared to other social groups. They are bearing the brunt of chronic diseases due to structural inequities and structural racism based on discriminatory policies. Unfortunately, where people live predisposes people to outsized effects of disasters and infectious diseases. Many marginalized groups are essential workers who have to go to work when many other people could stay home or work remotely.
Also, there’s this false narrative to either shut down the economy or keep it going. When it comes to fighting with the diseases, you have to do the opposite, which is bad for the economy. For instance, in comparative countries in Europe, we observed lockdowns much more aggressively and much more uniformly and temporarily. Initially, it depressed economic activity but it bounced back faster than the U.S. after the spread of the disease in under control. That’s the way pandemics work like in waves. Controlling disease spread creates options for the economy: opening the businesses, traveling with some restrictions, and for individuals to take responsibility on social distancing and personal hygiene. Read more…
There are also indirect effects of Covid-19 pandemic that it is not just about the illness, but it is also loneliness, separation, and social distancing. It’s about not being able to work, being stuck at home, that this has cascading effects across civil society such as rise in sexual and physical abuse cases. Further, there is rise in nationalistic tendencies in the U.S. and throughout the world. The politicians are pushing dubious science and allowing the use of improperly tested vaccines.
Of course, there are some best practices, too. We have new tools in remote collaboration and education that are connecting people like never before, telemedicine, e-commerce, sort of reaching some sectors and people. It’s not a replacement for in person, never will be, but it does open new avenues of communication and interaction. There are more investments in healthier buildings in terms of cleanliness, the quality of air purification, just better environments, professional education, etc. There is a lot of incredible work across sectors, particularly in the biopharmaceutical sectors sharing technologies and platforms for domestic and regional production.
There’s a political component of analyzing resilience and disasters whether it’s to Covid-19, or weather-related disasters. There’s a component of social and ecological environments where we’re living. There is no single person responsible, but it’s distributed across all of civil society that requires all of us to work towards that common goal. Otherwise, you risk focusing all your efforts on the built environment only to fracture the social cohesion and the social connectedness of certain groups. There’s an emerging evidence that inequalities are not just a humanitarian issue but a huge predictor of who lives and who dies, of who recovers and who doesn’t. Fostering better communication and interaction within a community, neighbors helping neighbors leads to less death and better mental health outcomes. The government can speed up the recovery process by developing better social, economic, and environmental policies and practices for sustainability.
In conclusion, there is uncertainty about the Covid-19 and nobody knows when the pandemic will end or what the effectiveness of a vaccine will be. We don’t know a lot of things. Therefore, it is crucial to build adaptive systems that are more successful in the face of uncertainty than planning for one specific event or one specific scenario. As we’re seeing with climate change, the past can provide hints at what we’re going to see, but it is not a good predictor of what’s going to happen, particularly with the increase in extreme weather events. In fact, there’s no single indicator of resilience. We need to pull together all of the various aspects of community and managing uncertainty and adapting to these situations.