COVID-19: A reminder for collective efforts against common challenges

Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Brunei Darussalam Mehmet Suat Akgun

According to medical encyclopedias, ‘apathy’ means “lack of feeling or emotions; indifference”, and experts state that among other causes, it may also appear as an unconsciously used defence mechanism for protection from anxiety when one is overstimulated by traumatic news.

Today our world is once again going through difficult times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and there are cases everywhere across the globe. About 320,189 people around the world have died from the COVID-19 outbreak as of May 19, 2020. As we all keep checking the increasing figures a few times a day, having done so for almost three months now, particularly following the gradual “normalisation” of our lives, the trap of developing some kind of apathy and seeing these figures just as statistics is there.

But it should not be the case. First and foremost because this is the number of lost lives of those who were once the mother, son, husband, sister, grandfather, grandchild, best friend, role model and classmate.

Today the priority for all states is to prevent further loss of lives. But the situation is very complex, considering the other direct consequences and side effects of the pandemic.

Firstly, even the most developed countries’ health care systems have not succeeded to effectively respond to COVID-19.

Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Brunei Darussalam Mehmet Suat Akgun

The contagiousness of the virus has shown that in this closely interconnected world, no one, be it in a developing country or in a highly developed one and not even on a ship in the middle of ocean, is protected against this virus.

Furthermore, the tracking of the virus demonstrates that country borders are meaningless when it comes to stopping a pandemic. Such a situation makes it imperative for the entire international community to work on a concerted response and without leaving anyone behind.

Simply because, as long as the virus exists in one country, it continues to pose a threat to us all.

Secondly, the world economy was already facing serious challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic and for many countries growth rates in 2020 were foreseen to be smaller than one per cent.

It is no secret to anyone that today’s economic projections are not brighter.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global economy is expected to experience its worst recession since the Great Depression.

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) latest forecasts are projecting a negative growth rate of nearly nine per cent for 2020 and it also predicts a best-case reduction in world trade of 13 per cent, and a worst case of 32 per cent. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) latest Global Investment Trend Monitor states that foreign direct investment (FDI) could experience downward pressure of between -30 and -40 per cent in 2020–2021.

As we witness mass shutdowns of businesses all around the world, millions of people are faced with a serious risk of losing their job and experts agree that the path to recovery will be long.

Despite this not so bright picture, and as far as states are concerned, the possibility of “economic Darwinism” period can not be allowed, simply because our world is already suffering from a good number of global problems, among them:

Poverty – in 2018, almost eight per cent of the world’s workers and their families lived on less than USD1.90 per person per day; 26.4 per cent of the world population (almost two billion people) were exposed to severe or moderate levels of food insecurity, meaning not having regular access to nutritious and sufficient food;

Lack of equal opportunity to access proper health services: over half of the global population or 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services; around 297,000 children under five die every year from diarrheal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water;

Migration: in 2019, the number of migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million;

Environmental pollution: 80 per cent of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused; every year, about eight million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans; it is estimated that plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year; plastic breaks up into tiny pieces in the sea, which are then consumed by fish and other sea animals which makes an average person eat 70,000 microplastics each year.

The list of global problems is actually much longer than that but making an exhaustive list is not the purpose of this article.

However, one thing is certain: We cannot afford adding “rise in number of fragile states” to this list. Weakening states lose their abilities of ensuring proper services and addressing internal problems which compromise peace and well-being in the country, and it is highly likely that such countries can turn into sources of instability in their region.

As one of the characteristics of our globalised world, security is indivisible and as the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, no one is safe anymore unless everyone is safe. It is time to come together against challenges that might compromise the quality of life of people and particularly that of the coming generations, first and foremost starting with fighting COVID-19 and establishing a system that can enable international community to better defend itself against similar challenges.

Turkey started on this path long ago through its enterprising and humanitarian foreign policy, standing by all those in need. The most recent manifestation of this approach is the fact that while catering to the needs of its own people by providing top-notch health care in fighting the pandemic, Turkey has continued to support those in need and responded positively to requests for help from more than 80 countries by sending locally produced medical supplies ranging from masks to high tech ventilators.

A common front is also much needed to tackle the problems of environmental pollution, climate change, poverty, famine, migration and others. These issues are all complex enough and clearly no country alone can cope with them.

It is a very critical time for everybody to see that global challenges we are facing make it imperative for all of us to accept the need for genuine international cooperation and a better multilateralism, not more polarisation. Only better functioning international organisations and creative multilateral solutions can help bring the necessary tools together to save our planet and only by taking into account the needs of the vulnerable members of the international community, can we build trust among peoples to move in this direction.