The world is in a state of calamity. From Asia Pacific to the Americas; from Europe to Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic shook national governments to respond abruptly and proactively. In response to the hourly escalation of cases, national governments implemented drastic measures in the attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Governments with well-planned measures such as South Korea, Singapore, and Cuba were able to achieve this overtime, but this is not the case for everyone, especially for fragile states and developing nations.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, citizens expressed their dismay over the government’s downplaying of and misinformation on the COVID-19 outbreak. While the government assured Bangladeshis of a four-level emergency plan, only 3,000 testing kits were available and no thermal scanners provided. Moreover, garment factories have been closing, laying off thousands of workers with unpaid compensation and no emergency support from the government.
In Jakarta, Indonesia and Manila, Philippines, the transport situation is similar. Both the Indonesian and Philippine governments ordered to limit public transportation with the goal to restrain mobility and implement social distancing. Yet, in both cases, the policy backfired. For Jakarta, the government did not coordinate with the private sector so they can make necessary and fair labor adjustments before reducing public vehicles, resulting in long, cramped queues. For Manila, the government deployed the military (without enough provision of thermal scanners and other medical equipment) to set up checkpoints to control the entry of workers and reprimand public transport drivers and commuters. Just like in Jakarta, this resulted in hours of waiting for the workers and traffic jams for public vehicles.
In the Middle East, refugees are extremely vulnerable. In the face of armed conflict, refugee camps have no access to health care, let alone clean water and nutritious food. Once infected, the virus will quickly escalate because of the dense population and cramped settlements. About 12 million people are refugees in the Middle East, and national governments, including donor countries, are paying the least attention to their safety and security.
As Asia Pacific battles with COVID-19, national governments must provide adequate support to their constituents. Mass testing should be made available and accessible. Face masks and other protective equipment should be distributed to citizens. Quality medical supplies and equipment should be provided to hospitals, clinics, and health workers. Free hospitalization should be guaranteed for the poor and marginalized.
Workers must also be guaranteed of their rights – paid leaves, just wages, and safe working conditions, among others. In this crisis, emergency relief and economic protection must be ensured for laborers whose income depends on daily work such as public transport drivers, street vendors, and construction workers as well as for homeless communities and informal settlers. Moreover, no price hikes must be imposed on food, supplies, rent, and other social services.
While no healthy lifestyle or safe environment will prevent the spread of diseases nor will resilience prevent natural calamities or disasters, the right and just amount of funding for concerned agencies, effective planning for urban and rural communities, efficient development programs for the poor and marginalized, and quick yet responsive policies from national governments will certainly aid countries in adapting immediately to global crises.
Governments’ continued imposition of neoliberal policies that prioritize productivity and profit only impede genuine, sustainable development which is supposed to ensure that the basic social services for citizens are met and that poverty and inequality are reduced.
The Reality of Aid – Asia Pacific urges national governments to provide emergency funds to their health and science and technology agencies to combat COVID-19 and calls on donor governments to support conflict-affected and fragile states and developing nations by providing aid, supplies, and other resources that are based on the needs of the affected populations. The Global South must also enhance South-South Cooperation to rally behind peoples’ rights and demands for the provision of basic social services and other health-related concerns in this time of crisis.
Let us come together in the spirit of international solidarity and cooperation!