International development cooperation risks being deeply affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, with potentially disastrous consequences among fragile states.
Over the past few weeks, the EU has been mobilising its full firepower – including health coordination, economic measures and market regulation – to address the COVID-19 crisis within its borders. Yet, in facing a global pandemic that knows no borders, it is in Europe’s interest to mount an effective global response at scale.
As the Coronavirus pandemic expands, and peak contagion remains uncertain, policy responses are gradually emerging, being implemented in a number of domains.
The crisis has several important implications, but two are currently dominating the headlines: individual health and the sustainability of national healthcare systems, and the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The crisis linked to the CoVid-19 epidemic now plunges all societies in the world into a state of exception and a strange war made of both a sanitary emergency and a suspended time, for an indefinite period. Each individual and each organisation is now making arrangements until further notice, with the shared feeling of a long period of uncertainty and deep questioning about the very foundations of our societies, our economies, and our ways of living together: our view of the world will necessarily be profoundly modified.
COVID19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that has rapidly turned into a pandemic, could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. The international liberal order, as well as the European Union within it, has been in trouble for years now. The EU has been shaken by the successive Eurozone and migration crises, while its surrounding regions were spiralling into conflict and outright collapse. COVID19 could be the final nail in the coffin of a rules-based international order and the European project within it. But it could also give birth to a new phoenix rising from its ashes. Much will depend on how Europe, both internally and internationally, will confront this epochal crisis.
Right in the middle of the crisis, Europe is in a state of shock. Italy, Spain and France, in particular, are experiencing an extremely deep sadness and a sense of powerlessness to help the most vulnerable, especially the elderly in our societies, despite health and social protection systems that could generally be considered better endowed and better organised than in other parts of the world. This deep moral distress goes beyond the question of how effectively different Governments have managed the crisis, and beyond questioning the policies that have undermined these social systems, although both questions will remain legitimate when it comes to learning the lessons of the crisis. The extreme vulnerability of the most fragile is bursting into our lives and into the public debate in industrialised countries.
Discussions about the world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic have already started apace. Many commentators are wondering whether the crisis offers the opportunity to set the world on a more sustainable and equal path.
Scientists are particularly exposed in the current health crisis, where governments are using their advice to consolidate their decisions. Thus summoned as experts, also by the media, they find themselves both placed in collective responsibility, as is the case with the scientific council mobilised around the French government, and exposed individually. They also constitute a reference point, to which one can refer in order to gradually build up, as a citizen, an understanding of the situation. The role of science within society and in relation to the major political decisions that have to be made is thus extremely active, in various configurations, and subject to multiple pressures.
Pandemic prevention and containment is a global public good, and its provision requires increased global coordination as well as adaptive, temporary, and coordinated decoupling. Cooperation can tackle cross-border health threats more effectively if well-known difficulties in coordination mechanisms, global governance and financing are addressed.
Is Africa defenceless in the face of the corona pandemic? This would appear to be self-evident, as even health care systems far better equipped than those of many African countries are currently on the verge of collapse. Nonetheless, such a conclusion is premature. In part, some African countries are even better prepared for pandemics than Europe and the United States. Nigeria’s success in fighting its 2014 Ebola outbreak illustrates why that is the case and what lessons wealthier countries and the development cooperation community can learn from it.