By Syed Nasir Hassan
The world seems to be oblivious when it comes to the non-traditional security paradigms hence certain natural cycles repeat overtime. So is the case with pathogens or viruses and epidemics or pandemics. Countermeasures are taken for known threats whereas the unknown threats are studied and then often brought to the global consciousness. Although, viruses are known and being studied but not often brought to global consciousness due to the overshadowing global political and corporate structure. The world is having a Curve of History where an infectious disease will alter the course of future global political dynamics.
As the world is seeking an end to this Covid-19 pandemic, another reality is obscured from us that is that even it ends it might not be. In this interconnected and extra globalized world where human mobility is irrepressible, it gives a very apt environment to any viral infection to transform itself from just a disease to an epidemic and then to a pandemic. In this regard, humans have themselves become a potential weapon and that too in biological in nature. Despite being caused due to human activity, they undergo a hibernation period after some time or mutate into mild form but after causing a catastrophe.
In 1980, the year when WHO celebrated that it has successfully uprooted the world’s biggest killer of human history, i.e., smallpox which devoured over 500million people only in the 20th century. It was the only disease the world had overcome. People started to contemplate that science would overcome epidemics and pandemics. But then the situation got worse as SARS, MERS, EBOLA, SWINE, ZIKA were on the waiting list. It might have been a different scenario if rather focusing that science will do all the work there would have been an understanding regarding why and how pandemics resurface time and time again.
Today, as we are stampeding in the 21st century, the world has become more globalized. Due to overpopulation and mobility, human bodies easily became incubators for diseases. Since most of the viruses live in living organisms, it is difficult to overcome these diseases.
With unprecedented growth in population, it became a need to boost up production lines of food to keep the global cogs rolling. Moreover, another factor which added fuel to fire was human crossing the natural limits. In order to accommodate, the encroachment of jungles began disturbing the wildlife cycles. When jungles started getting bulldozed these animals started to invade human territory as we did theirs, bringing in the viruses as well. This urbanization played to be lucrative ground for the spread, from wild to poultry than to humans. One such thing was swine flu in 2009 which was caused by H1-N1, a Sub-type of influenza-A virus. It caused around 575,000 deaths in its first year of circulation.
Another aspect to be mentioned is our insatiable lust for more which has caused a serious threat to us in form of climate change. As the temperature of the Earth is rising constantly due to human activity the ice caps are melting rapidly too. In August of 2016, a boy died in Serbia and the cause was anthrax. The disease which humans have thought to have gone into a hibernation cycle. Not only this more than 2300 reindeer died due to this outbreak. The prime cause of that outbreak was the melting of permafrost and a dead infected carcass got exposed. A noteworthy point is that on poles the dead do not decompose rather preserve under layers of ice.
WHO has estimated that a global temperature increase of 2-3 oC will increase the number of people who are at risk of malaria by around 3-5% or several hundred million. In 2018, malaria alone killed around 405,000 people. Another epidemic that was caused by misquotes was the Zika outbreak in Latin America, primarily Brazil. What did it cost? A generation effected by microcephalia and other disorders.
It has been estimated that in the last three decades, 30 new diseases have emerged which have the potential to become pandemics. Now it the questions isn’t IF a disease shape-shifts into a pandemic? But WHEN a disease would become pandemic? While the globe is in a fray with Covid-19 some diseases have undergone to be endemic like AIDs which has infected around 37 million people over the globe while humans seems to be in despair.
It is high time for us to have a wakeup call. Being at the pinnacle of civilization, it is indeed a rudiment for a glimmering future to work on solutions. The consequence of such outbreaks is not just death but social and global collapse. It is time that the world focus on preparedness rather post-outbreak measure. It is time that we shift our focus from traditional to nontraditional threats, from nukes to biosciences. It is high time to spend much of our defense budget on nontraditional security threats or we would not even survive to see the traditional ones.
Syed Nasir Hassan is a research associate at the Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution