Scientists and environmentalists have warned that Covid-19 is not the last, more pandemics are indeed coming. They have showed how, with unabated deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction, pathogens are more likely to jump from wildlife to humans, as in the case of SARS, MERS and Covid-19.
Besides, melting permafrost are also releasing disease-carrying virus and bacteria that have been dormant since the prehistoric ages.
On the top of that, there is climate change induced hazards that are already impacting people's lives, exposing them to displacement, extreme poverty, and hunger.
Therefore, we need to be better prepared to handle such crises in the future. In the first few weeks of coronavirus outbreak in Bangladesh, we have witnessed how the health services collapsed like house of cards. Economic sector has been suffering no less.
Lower, and lower-middle income families borne the heaviest brunt of the shutdown. According to a research conducted by LightCastle Partners, about six percent of the people employed in the informal sector lost their jobs within the first 10 days of the lockdown.
Around 85 percent of the labour force in the country is engaged in the informal economy.
Just within a week after the shutdown began, people started coming out in the streets in hope of getting food aid or money. Whenever a car stopped, relief seekers thronged that car as citizens started to give handouts to the destitute.
In early April, I was on an assignment regarding night time Dhaka in the shutdown. A friend was accompanying me. As soon as we stopped near Gulistan to talk with some street children they surrounded the car.
The unprotected crowd came so close to our faces that my friend was compelled to close the windows to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Impolite and rude that may seem but that became the norm very fast.
A month later, a colleague and I were in a CNG auto-rickshaw at the entrance of Bashundhara residential area when a group of relief seekers surrounded us in dangerous proximity. A short conversation revealed that they were targeting auto-rickshaws, because cars would not open the windows in fear of contracting the virus from the unprotected aid-seekers.
Reports also depicted situations where market-goers in Mohammadpur were dangerously surrounded by poor people asking for alms. This is going to sound extremely rude but these events remind me of the scenes from the zombie movies where zombies are chasing people and turning them into similar creatures.
News came in international media that people jokingly coughed on other people, and a Pennsylvania grocery store had to dump $35,000 worth of food after a woman intentionally coughed on the products.
If shutdown prolongs, and we cannot ensure food on everyone's plate, I suppose coronavirus, or any virus for that matter, may become weaponised by hungry people. People on the social media, who can afford to stay at home for months without work, have been calling on for a strict enforcement of continued shutdown, and they will probably ask for firearms to fight our own "zombies" in near future.
We really need to avoid turning the situation into such a complete dystopia, during this coronavirus outbreak and/or any other pandemic in the future. A new order is indeed necessary, where we will rearrange our priorities, redirect our course on "development," and conserve natural world. We will also need to ensure that everyone affords to stay home when necessary.
First and foremost, people need food, and a home, to stay at home. There is indeed enough food in the planet to feed every human being. Even in the Covid-19 outbreak, food production has not been hampered.
People just do not have enough money to buy food because they lost jobs. In Chattogram and Jamalpur, poor people looted truckloads of relief. On the other hand, local government representatives and ruling party men have been arrested for stealing relief material.
These situations could be avoided if we had a mechanism to provide cash support to the most vulnerable. We already have a national citizen database, information from household income and expenditure surveys, and every family has mobile phones.
Finding a way to reach out to the poor should not be very difficult. In any disaster situation, keeping the local markets functional is a key to resilience. And that is possible when people have money in their pockets. In fact, transporting relief from an area to another is inefficient, costs extra money, and increases the risks.
If Pakistan can provide cash payments to over 80 million people, Bangladesh should be able to do better.
There is an obvious difference between what needs to be done and what can be done in reality. In Bangladesh, we have been draining resources in diverse ways. In Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project, the abnormally high amount of money involved in furnishing apartments sparked protests. Procurement of a piece of curtain used as a bed screen for Tk37.50 lakh at Faridpur Medical College Hospital made headlines.
Earlier, people lost their investments in the share market scam of 2011, but the names of the accused were not disclosed, nor were any punitive action taken against the manipulators. Loan default and money laundering is also exceptionally high in the country. The railway has always been a loss-maker, but trains leased out to private companies make profit.
So is the situation with BRTC. The state-run sugar mills' loss stands at thousands of crores of Taka. These examples manifest the widespread corruption in the public sector. As photographer-journalist Shahidul Alam told Al-Jazeera's Mehedi Hasan on the Upfront, people of Bangladesh are doing well despite the government, not because of it.
Corruption has a strong political connection. During the aforementioned relief misappropriation spree, a social media post went viral that showed the public perception about how the theft was connected to investments made in the elections.
A corruption-free country with rule of law was a must for peoples' welfare before the outbreak, and it is a must during and after the outbreaks too.
In the coming chaos, ensuring good governance in general, and redirecting public expenditure in particular, should be a high priority worldwide, not only in Bangladesh.
The author is a Journalist.