International Centre for Clean Water

The Choice

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We live in a connected world, not just digitally but also physically. Look no further than Covid-19. In a connected world, you damage one part and you damage the whole. For centuries, we have been damaging the parts in our “pursuit of happiness”. Now the truth has hit. We are one. We are connected! The initial response to the pandemic was predictably regional – protect the parts. Countries blocking their borders and quarantining and testing incoming visitors. Social distancing was imposed. Every citizen was apprised of his responsibility of not contributing to the spread of the virus, whether they have contracted it or not! Largely they understood and obeyed. Survival instinct?

Thus, places of work, worship, play and entertainment became deserted and every human being was interned in their home. Or almost. Governments, essential service providers, doctors and paramedics had to work overtime to treat and save lives on one hand and provide subsistence for the “locked down” humans on the other.

The economy collapsed but ecology flourished! The air became cleaner, the rivers purer. Fauna, hitherto unseen, emerged and frolicked in the land that once belonged to them. In just two weeks, the world outside turned a better place, but we humans couldn’t step out to enjoy that! Reminded us of the proverb “You cannot eat your cake and have it too”. Yes, if and when we do step out, we are likely to destroy it back in our pursuit of happiness. Unless….

For decades we have been clamouring about climate change, deforestation, depredation of wildlife and water scarcity. Rise of pandemics, germ warfare, and the nuclear holocaust was also touted about. Peace Conferences, Economic Forums, G4, G20 meets and such could not put a brake on our headlong rush towards self-destruction. We used the phrase “protect the environment”. What we meant was to “protect us from the environment”. Who were we asking for protection? Was anyone listening? It seems an invisible virus was! In a matter of weeks, that virus drove us back into our dwellings and ensured the planet was restored to its pristine beauty. “Stay at home to make the world a better place!” Now we know our true worth!

It is a lesson for humanity. There are no natural disasters. Only man-made ones. In nature, there are only events. A tsunami, a hurricane, an earthquake or a volcanic eruption is just an event. Just like the nuclear explosions that occur in the sun. We can either ride it by acting responsibly or get crushed by it with irresponsible behaviour. The Covid-19 is a man-made disaster. Nations that acted responsibly suffered fewer casualties. Others are learning the hard way.

What does the future behold? Wonderful things if we act sensibly. Great suffering if we do not. How can we act sensibly? The first step is to respect nature. Some “divine force” has stepped in and restored the balance on earth. Taught human beings that they were not the centre of creation. Economy, which is essentially a human creation, does not matter at all. Money in your bank account is not going to save you. The virus is not interested in your money. Doomsday predictors are having a field day. “We are heading towards a depression”, “The worst since 1930’s”, “millions will be rendered jobless” etc.

But there’s so much to do! How can anyone be jobless? The nature of demand will change and along with it the nature of jobs. With less travel, the demand for online services will increase. Education, entertainment, shopping, business meetings, social gatherings, religious worship etc. would go online in a big way. Industries that depended on people movement – airlines, railways, road transport, automobiles, hotels, shopping malls, sporting events or any form of congregation, will need to reinvent themselves or shrink. There’s the story of two shoe salesmen who went prospecting to an unknown island where people never wore shoes. One reported. “No hope here. Nobody wears shoes here!” The other said “Great opportunity. Nobody wears shoes here”. 

Some smart enterprises have started riding the wave. Unrelated companies are making masks, ventilators, hand sanitizers, test kits and other essentials needed to track and tame the virus. But that is only the survival part. The real game begins when the virus is brought under control. Enterprises and industries need to keep ecology and health foremost in their mission. Not quarter on the quarter top line and bottom lines and shareholder value. At national and international levels, instead of measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), new indices – Gross Ecologic Product, Gross Disparity Index (between rich and poor), Gross People Health may need to be created.

The lockdown has reminded us that “health is wealth”. And that our health depends on the health of our surroundings. More hospitals, doctors and pharmaceuticals will not enhance health. Rather they are a measure of our deteriorating health. Several billion people across the world suffer poverty, go to bed hungry and sick every day. Several species of plants and animals are driven to extinction. Diverting resources to take care of them is not going to be mere philanthropy or charity, but the only smart way to exist. The sustainable way to enhance the quality of life for all. 

So, we have two choices. To return to “business as usual” and face the wrath of Covid-21. Or, create a future founded on mutual coexistence and respect for one another and our surroundings.

What’s your choice?

This article is written by Mr E Nandakumar, CEO.