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OP-ED: Nothing common about sense anymore

  • Published at 03:25 am June 27th, 2021
covid-19 lockdown
File photo of a closed street in a Dhaka area amid a Covid-19 lockdown Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The outcome of ignoring the science has been catastrophic

In the best of times, searching questions go unanswered or lie buried under a swathe of more of the same old narrative. In the worst of times, the most innocuous queries cause most heads to hang in shame: Most, not all. 

The unwillingness, inability, or ineptness to change governance -- with all its ramifications -- leaves it ineffective and non-reflective of reality. For those that follow the old narrative without adjusting to people’s expectations are missing out on a simple fact: They are being marginalized.

Thinking in the past was about handling a situation rather than preparing for it. Business management worth their salt have for years now worked on different scenarios in preparing crisis plans and, crucially, communications. Mitigation and adaptation measures are in place and frequently reviewed so as to be as close to emerging realities.

Occasions when an unprecedented crisis takes the stuffing out of everyone test crisis communication skills, with learnings of the immediate impact becoming the main feedback into planning. Even in those circumstances, ground realities cannot be ignored.

The rationing system introduced during WWII was a difficult reality to chew on. There were moans and groans but people didn’t go hungry. What happened for years after was that the system continued totally out of sync with the reality of growing populations and their needs. A class was created that had an added benefit to their normal way of life.

Social inequality was inevitable, so much so that the system itself was dismantled with some exceptions. In the meantime, as basic governance and policy remained stuck to old ideals, the informal economy -- legal and illegal -- grew and flourished.

The end result was that economies swirled out of control. Today, the informal economy in many countries has become larger than the formal ones. 

Checks and balances always relate to the formal sector and are woefully inadequate against corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and antiquated laws. There are almost no such deterrents in the informal economy. Just as abhorrent is the absence of measures to bring areas of that economy into the formal sector. It’s a vicious circle, but one that needs to be addressed.

Liberty, fraternity, and equality are the founding principles of France. That these have failed is mainly due to the hesitancy to change. The United States’s “all men are created equal” has become redundant. These are but examples of how even ideals do not necessarily last forever.

The ramifications are horrendous. Drugs, arms, human trafficking, and self-decided regime change -- and support to suppressive regimes -- have provided newer opportunities for the informal businesses. The darker aspects can be a commentary of their own. The more humane side is that which assails sensibility.

Governments have been forced to impose lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic. Science and health have been two steps behind a virus that mutates, swirls, changes directions, and attacks the human body.

Science has made its statement -- breaking the chain and trying preventative measures such as vaccines. Both are in conflict with governance and the stated view of balancing lives and livelihoods. The outcome of ignoring the science has been catastrophic and heading towards disaster.

Implementation, communications, and pumping resources where they were most required was tried initially by nations. Now, nearly two years on, international efforts are being attempted. Equality is no longer a factor in making vaccines available from stockpiles of developed countries to those sorely in need.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen sounded weary when he disclosed that pricing and conditions were now the moot topics for discussions on vaccine purchases.

People, equality, fraternity -- none of it mattered anymore. It’s the rotten side of formal business that continues to hold sway over the biggest health conundrum in a century.

Big pharma is disinclined to sell vaccines at a reasonable price, and are even more disinterested in allowing the license for home-grown production.

Life isn’t fair. When our police ran steamrollers over battery-charged rickshaws without considering where the driver will get his next meal from, there was little reaction from passers-by. Resigned to their fate, they sighed, shrugged their shoulders, and went about their lives.

That they defy government directives is no longer of concern. If the police steamroll rickshaws but not cars, rent-a-cars, trucks, or buses for carrying passengers in a lockdown, the message is loud and clear.

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

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