In December 2019, news of yet another deadly respiratory disease arose – this time from Wuhan, China. Unlike recent zoonotic diseases like Ebola that suddenly and enigmatically emerged locally, African governments had time to prepare. On 27 January, after four Asian countries reported cases, the African Centre for Disease Control (CDC) initiated an emergency operations centre to coordinate the response. The first case was not detected on the continent until 19 February. Within a few weeks, many governments began to impose travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine periods for people arriving from Asia and Europe. In the following weeks, over 40 countries closed borders (Loembé et al, 2020).
On 28 April 2020, the US hit a million infected people with 2,000 deaths per day. Africa had recorded only 32,000 cases and 1,400 total deaths to that point. Influential publications like the Financial Times suggested: ‘Maybe, just maybe, the continent could be spared the worst of the pandemic’ (Pilling, 2020: 1). The article continued to point to all the positive factors including ‘early lockdown’, ‘less dense population’, ‘the effect of ultraviolet’, ‘a climate that meant people spent more time outside’ and ‘Africa’s youthful population’.
The optimism has quickly faded. While Africa took 93 days to hit the first 100,000 cases, the number doubled only 16 days later on 7 June. By the end of June, the numbers had roughly doubled again to nearly 400,000 cases and close to 10,000 deaths. By the third week in July, they again doubled to almost 800,000 infections with nearly 17,000 deaths.
COVID-19 is transforming national policies on an unimaginable scale: ‘austerity’ has vanished and (hyper)Keynesian spending is back; neoliberal regimes are making unimaginable welfare interventions; income support is favoured in some countries; and hyper-globalization policies are being reined in. Seemingly everything has changed. The initial pressures for these transformations focused on proximate problems: rapid responses to risks of premature death from a new disease and temporary support for employment, incomes, household food security and the economy. But, at a structural level, the coronavirus pandemic could help transform the institutions and norms that have underpinned global development in the early 21st century, for better or worse.
This may be a critical juncture (Green, 2020), where actions taken now could have legacies for decades to come. The pandemic could be a time for what Naomi Klein (2007) has called ‘shock doctrine’, where it is exploited for questionable purposes to create an unappealing future, or it could set the course for a better future. In this chapter, we explore three scenarios of ‘what’ the future might be like, rather than predictions, as an aid for those thinking about how to shape global futures.
The proximate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have been extremely negative: public fear, increased mortality, loss of jobs and reduced or cessation (for example, especially for informal-sector households) of income, collapsed businesses, strained public health services, a massive rise in public debt, loss of personal mobility and threats of social and political breakdown. These negative impacts create processes that could greatly increase the likelihood of structural changes that undermine the prospects for human development. At the extreme, they include apocalypse.
COVID-19 emerged in China and spread first to high and middle-income countries. Many of the initial control recommendations (to wash hands, self-isolate and physically distance) assumed access to essential services (for example, water, space). These protective measures are not equally possible in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and especially not in informal settlements because of limited infrastructure. With one billion people living in informal settlements – 30–70 per cent of inhabitants in some cities (Satterthwaite et al, 020) – there is an urgent need to consider how to appropriately address the pandemic in these areas1.
Urban growth has been increasingly unplanned in many countries, with poverty concentrated in informal settlements. Cities are often segregated along wealth and social lines (including race). Images of ‘slums’ depict them as chaotic, dirty and disease ridden, and as a social, environmental and developmental threat to the rest of the city. Such views have informed attempts to deny residents tenure and carry out evictions. A defining challenge of informal settlements and ‘slums’ is the lack of data about them prior to, and during, emergencies. Due to their illegal or informal status there are often no reliable data about the number of people who live there or their health. This makes it difficult to prepare for an outbreak and could lead to inappropriate and harmful responses.
The first half of this chapter outlines different forms of vulnerability and identifies groups that may be more severely affected by COVID-19.
2019 was the year of climate emergency declarations. Around the world, 1,750 jurisdictions in 30 countries declared states of emergency in response to a rapidly changing and increasingly volatile global climate so that, today, 820 million people, or one in ten people on the planet, live in places covered by climate emergency decrees (Climate Emergency Declaration, 2020). 2020 has brought the COVID-19 emergency. Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020, COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world with devastating impacts on human life patterns, livelihoods, everyday expectations and public health systems. The global economy has been brought to its knees.
The level of attention afforded to the coronavirus contagion has made it easy to overlook that, not so long ago, WHO (2015) identified climate change as the ‘greatest threat to global health in the 21st century’. On that account, some have adversely compared the ‘lacklustre’ or ‘faltering’ pursuance of climate change adaptation and mitigation with the intense and robust response to coronavirus across most jurisdictions (Paoletti and Vinke, 2020; The Lancet, 2020). The generally low visibility of climate change during the coronavirus crisis notwithstanding, the authors argue that the two crises share much by way of provenance and that, in their intersection, they are in many respects mutually exacerbating. The authors also argue that measures taken to allay either crisis can positively but also negatively impact on efforts to alleviate the other.
The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving. Its impacts have ranged from taking lives to geopolitics with governments engaging in a bitter war of words (and actions) around mitigation and other issues. This disunity is causing concern across the world, not least in the UN system, although it is better that this is being played out in public spats rather than in violent conflict (Steiner, 2020). As Florini and Sharma (2020) argue, the 21st century is set to be one of ‘massive disruptions’ posing serious threats to society. These range from potential political turmoil to financial fragilities, coupled with climate disruption. COVID-19 has demonstrated the imperative of effective, financed international cooperation to solve or remediate these global challenges. However, the prospects for enhanced international cooperation seem to have diminished in recent years as a result of dialectics of globalization.
The spatial dynamics of liberalization, offshoring and corporate greed have generated reactionary backlashes in some developed economies, such as the US and UK. The rise of right-wing populism globally has been associated with the politics of anti-globalization and protectionism (Gereffi, 2018; Kiely, 2020), and Baldwin (2019) predicts that these tendencies will intensify as middle-class professions are gutted by the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), generating further pressure towards ‘shelterism’ and ‘me first’ economic policies. These developments could then be further securitized in relation to climate change impacts – an already extant trend (Andersson, 2019; Buxton and Hayes, 2016).
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Global South will be formidable and will take decades to recover from. Regions that have historically struggled with development issues have been caught highly exposed to the spread of this particular pathogen. Already straining from under-resourced health and medical provision, climate change and conflict, many of the world’s most vulnerable regions will be forced into a mitigation drain that will undermine decades of positive development while accelerating processes of socioeconomic stress that – if not combated at an international level – will lead to further damaging levels of economic decline and deprivation. This chapter will survey the effects that COVID-19 will have on socioeconomic inequality and will highlight the scale of the need vis-à-vis strategies for mitigation.
COVID-19 has brought forward a series of issues that will have both short- and long-term implications for international development. The various governmental attempts at mitigating the impact of this pandemic have served to highlight persistent systemic fault-lines in a global socioeconomic system where inequality has, yet again, come sharply into focus. The implications of this all too predictable pandemic have been manifest in various ways: through transnational market competition, the scramble for basic medical supplies; the deliberate neglect of the most vulnerable members of society; the pharmaceutical companies’ race for a vaccine; an almost total lack of testing and medical intervention in disadvantaged communities; fear of the virus being used as a cover for human rights abuses; and international organizational withdrawal when it comes to assisting regions of the world which do not have the health and public services to combat such desperate circumstances – this has been most notable in regions in conflict (Human Rights Watch, 2020).
80% of individuals in the bottom quintile of the population work in the informal sector. Almost one fourth of all Latin Americans have no access to potable water, a third has no access to the internet, and many live in low quality housing – with dramatic consequences not only for their income opportunities but also for their health during the pandemic.
This graphic situation of inequality presents difficult choices for Latin American governments in their policy responses to the pandemic, particularly with regard to the most severe of these ‘lockdowns’ – that is, national shutdowns of all but essential economic and social activity combined with stay at home orders for most of the population. On the one hand, not imposing lockdowns can risk the rapid spread of the virus; on the other, the stark context of inequality alongside poor-quality, sparse and badly equipped and funded health and public services make lockdowns difficult to implement in an effective manner, and may exacerbate poverty and inequality further.
Available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND licence.
Bringing together a range of experts across various sectors, this important volume explores some of the key issues that have arisen in the Global South with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Situating the worldwide health crisis within broader processes of globalisation, the book investigates implications for development and gender, as well as the effects on migration, climate change and economic inequality. Contributors consider how widespread and long-lasting responses to the pandemic should be, while paying particular attention to the accentuated risks faced by vulnerable populations. Providing answers that will be essential to development practitioners and policy makers, the book offers vital insights into how the impact of COVID-19 can be mitigated in some of the most challenging socio-economic contexts worldwide.
It is necessary for African leaders and policymakers to utilize the rare opportunity opened up by the COVID-19 outbreak to unite behind a common purpose and strengthen public health systems and disease surveillance. Such a unity against the pandemic will make it easier for the World Bank and other donor or lending institutions to mitigate its negative effects. Strengthening regional cooperation of all health institutions in Africa and activation of stricter policies at the ports of entry, such as screening, testing and isolation of confirmed cases, will go a long way to forestall unexpected outbreaks.This chapter provides a general overview of how a few selected African countries have responded to COVID-19 and a critical view of the effects of the responses in six countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa). These countries were selected based on the intensity of the COVID-19 response, their alarming COVID-19 situation and national events that could have affected the epidemic curve. By 30 March 2020, Uganda, Rwanda and South African government mitigation and response measures were rated above 90 per cent stringency according to the University of Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (University of Oxford, 2020). Kenya and Nigeria are among the top ten countries in Africa with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. Malawi was among the last African countries to confirm COVID-19 cases, and after it held its presidential elections on 23 June 2020 there was a rise in the number of cases.
This contribution reflects critically on what it means to ‘learn’ from the Global South. The starting point is why the ‘Global North’ appears to have learnt so little about pandemic response from the ‘Global South’, despite relevant knowledge being in plain sight. The ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to learn because it disrupts the labels dividing different ‘worlds’ of development and places a magnifying glass on critical issues of local and global equity and justice. As COVID-19 is a novel disease, it is unsurprising that not enough is known about it. Yet a surprising ignorance has emerged in its wake about how governments should respond, and who is most vulnerable and likely to suffer or die. This ignorance about differential impacts and vulnerabilities cannot exactly be said to be an absence of knowledge. Rather, it is a problem of un-knowing that maps interestingly onto central debates in critical development studies about the proper focal objects, subjects and purposes (the whats, the whos and the whys) of ‘development’.
How and why have issues of local and global inequity and injustice become actively (rather than just accidentally) under-emphasized and ignored? Cognitive frames that present ‘development’ as a question of ‘Northern’ knowledge and competence versus ‘Southern’ lack of knowledge or competence are deeply complicit in the active production of global ignorance, with serious effects.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced a renewed appreciation of the value of public health systems as national and global public goods.