International Day of Peace- How can we heal from Covid-19?

Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21 September. The UN General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire. As humanity now strives to heal from the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 theme for the International Day of Peace is “Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world”.

COVID-19 has turned our world upside-down. Over 4.5 million lives have been lost due to Covid (at the time this article was written, the current number stands at 4,714,987). In addition to the dramatic loss of human life worldwide, the economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is also devastating- tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people has risen to 132 million at the end of 2020.

Bearing this in mind, ImamsOnline reflects on how to help global recovery, on how to build resilience, and how to transform our world into one that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable. ‘Peace’ as an ideal is also integral to Islam- the word Islam itself means peace and submission.

In order to recover and heal from the Covid-19 pandemic, 3 key areas of concern need to be addressed consciously and simultaneously:

  1. Unequal access to healthcare:

According to the World Bank, globally, more than half the world’s population already lacked access to essential health services before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic has further exposed the severely underfunded nature of global health care.

The coronavirus pandemic is known for hitting the underprivileged and marginalized groups the hardest. Speaking at a virtual youth dialogue on climate last week, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted how “the most affected communities are the most vulnerable and marginalised in any country. So the issue of inequality is very high on everyone’s agenda”.

Covid-19 has aptly shown that access to health care is not guaranteed for everyone, everywhere. A lack of systems, supplies, equipment, and funding has prevented many countries from being able to quickly address the pandemic. Over 100 third world countries have not yet received a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, 28% of health facilities lack access to reliable electricity, making it hard to operate critical machines and store medicines. In Yemen, the ongoing civil war has destroyed countless hospitals and created chronic supply shortages. In South Sudan, there are only four ventilators. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee camps are overcrowded and lack water and sanitation facilities, creating a breeding ground for infectious disease.

Even in metropolitan places like New York and New Delhi, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the state’s health care system nearly unravelled. There was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and beds; doctors and nurses were getting sick; and hospitals were running out of money.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how health care interventions must take a holistic approach, encompassing matters of nutrition, access to water and sanitation, and environmental quality. Community engagement is also a key part of health care, especially during disease outbreaks, when people are wary of potentially infectious outsiders and conspiracy theories abound. The call to action now is for governments to think about this globally and collectively.

2. Addressing the surge in stigma, discrimination, and hatred during Covid-19:

Broader intersectional issues of racial injustice and gender inequality also factor into the delivery of health care. For instance, the pandemic has endangered millions of women around the world, who are being deprived of essential sexual and reproductive health care as resources get allocated elsewhere and quarantine measures restrict women’s ability to move around.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has also said that immediate action must be taken to address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on ethnic and racial minorities. Various studies have shown that people of colour and indigenous communities have been impacted by the pandemic at alarming and disproportionate rates around the world.

In the US, for example, the COVID-19 mortality rate for African Americans is more than double the death rate of any other ethnic or racial group in the country. This is largely due to social conditions and structural racism, including racial disparities in access to health care and employment. Disproportionately high mortality rates among people of colour have also been reported in Seine Saint-Denis, France.

Research has also shown that the fear of Covid has fueled social discrimination, xenophobia, and hate crimes, especially towards Chinese people and those of Asian descent. Last year, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, noted that “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering” and urged governments to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”

To be able to recover from the devastation of the pandemic, we must make peace with one another. Confronting Covid as the common enemy of humankind, we must be reminded that we are not enemies of one another. As mentioned by the Human Rights Watch, governments should take urgent steps to prevent racist and xenophobic violence and discrimination linked to the Covid-19 pandemic while prosecuting racial attacks against Asians and people of Asian descent.

  1. Climate change & Sustainability:

Many countries, including the UK, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by restricting travel and other activities during 2020, and into 2021. This caused a temporary reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. However, on a global scale, studies have found that very little changes are detectable. The opportunity that the pandemic has presented is not limited to our lockdowns, but the way in which we can rebuild our economies to “build back better” and meet long-term climate goals.

The pandemic has also been affecting the entire food system and has laid bare its fragility. Border closures, trade restrictions and confinement measures have been preventing farmers from accessing markets, including for buying inputs and selling their produce, and agricultural workers from harvesting crops, thus disrupting domestic and international food supply chains, and reducing access to healthy, safe, and diverse diets.

Religious tradition, especially Islam, teaches us a lot about environmentalism. Despite the Covid travel restrictions and economic shutdowns, we need to work together towards a ‘green’ and sustainable world. We must rethink the future of our environment and tackle climate change and environmental degradation with ambition and urgency. Only then can we protect the health, livelihoods, food security and nutrition of all people, and ensure that our ‘new normal’ is a better one.

Now is the time for global solidarity and support, especially with the most vulnerable in our societies, particularly in the emerging and developing world. As the Quran (49:10) says: “Humanity is but a single Brotherhood. So make peace with your brethren”. Only together can we overcome the intertwined health, social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and prevent its escalation into a lingering humanitarian, health, and food security catastrophe.

Sources: UN; WHO; BBC; Human Rights Watch; Met Office.

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