The Financial Express

Is coronavirus a great leveller?

Is coronavirus a great leveller?

Walter Scheidel, the author of the famous book `The Great Leveler', had observed in his book. Ever since humans began to form, herd lives lock and pass on these assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilisation. Over thousands of years only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The four horsemen of levelling mass mobilisation, warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse and catastrophic plagues have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Today the violence that reduced inequality seems to have diminished and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future".

Before we make a concluding remark about the author's view, let us discuss the present situation. The people of Bangladesh resisted the Pakistan army attack during the start of the liberation war in 1971, completely unarmed. Almost the same thing happened in March 2020 when the corona- apocalyptic pandemic broke out. The front fighters like the physicians, health workers, armed forces and the police faced the situation without minimum protective measures like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other equipment. Covid-19 first broke out in China in November 2019. Either because of ignorance or irresponsibility China did not properly inform the world community about this violent pandemic. When the Covid-19 was knocking at the door of India, the U.S President Donald Trump was hitch hiking there along with the Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi. Bangladesh had got more than three months' time before the pandemic broke out. Unfortunately both the Ministry of Health and much vaunted Directorate General of Health office did not take minimum precautions. Adequate number of PPEs should have been made ready for the front fighters, particularly for the physicians and health workers who are likely to handle the patients directly. Half a dozen physicians and health workers died. The number of affected persons was also high. By Allah's mercy they have conquered the Covid-19 and rejoined the job. In this connection we shall salute our police and Armed Forces. Several thousand members of the forces were infected with some of them dying. Many of the infected later also rejoined in work.

Health sector of Bangladesh is a neglected one. A look into the country's budget will bear testimony to the fact. Almost three months have passed, the health service department has not been able to streamline the treatment system. Ventilator is the most vital equipment. Sufficient number of ventilators should have been imported / arranged giving utmost priority. In all there are probably less than five hundred ICVs in the country which are concentrated in Dhaka and a few big cities.  The Prime Minister has ordered to arrange ICVs in all the districts. We hope that the authorities would make a timeframe in implementing the order of the Honourable Prime Minister.

Covid-19 or this kind of disease is a panic driver. The treatment of all other diseases has come to a standstill. Private practitioners have virtually stopped attending the general patients. Even the government hospitals do not properly attend the general patients, not to speak of Covid-19 though the health ministry has issued an order so that no patient remains unattended. A few days ago five Covid-19 patients were burnt alive due to the show of negligence of a renowned and well-equipped hospital.

High officials, politicians and rich people of Bangladesh always go abroad for any kind of medical disease. That may be a reason for the negligence of the health sector. Even today in Covid-19 treatment it is visible how common people and VIPs are differentiated.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has, however, vowed not to go abroad in case of her illness. She wants to be with her people. This will bring a change in our medical treatment system. It is expected that more funds will be allocated to the health sector. It is to be ensured that the proper treatment reaches up to the grassroots level.

Because of lockdown hundreds of thousands of people have become jobless. The government has been giving relief. But that could not cover all people. A large number of voluntary organisations have come forward. Forum for Secular Bangladesh (Nirmul Committee) has rendered financial assistance to the needy. 108 physicians who are avowed members of the Nirmul Committee have joined the fray and are relentlessly working.

Now let us go back to the main discussion. Walter Scheidel expressed doubt on the prospects for a more equal future. He is very much right about it. The world has been more and more unequal. According to the author in 2015 the richest 62 persons owned as much as private net wealth as the poorer half of the humanity. Income and wealth have become more unevenly distributed in Europe and America. Whereas there are lots of Americans who change the models of private planes every year the current upheavals in the USA are not the result of the killing of an individual, but also the result of the decade long economic deprivation of the have not's. More uneven distribution of wealth has been more and more prominent in Russia, China, India and elsewhere. In India one of the richest men owns a house at Mumbai which could easily accommodate sixteen hundred middle class families comfortably. The largest slum in the world is situated in Mumbai. India claims to be the fifth largest economy in the world whereas several thousand farmers commit suicides being overburdened with loans.

In Bangladesh we also do not lag behind. There are people who own well decorated spacious houses in the posh areas of the capital as well as palatial rest houses in the several areas of the capital. Some of them are public leaders busy for serving the have-nots. A number of Bangladeshis own houses in Malaysia and Canada.

Has this corona arrival been a big leveller for lessening the inequality? The entire globe has been affected and people rich or poor have been suffering. Millions of people have been infected and nearly four lakh people have died.

After the Covid-19 is over, will the world be more egalitarian, or again more towards the path for another pandemic? Let us hope that once the pandemic is over, there will be realisation among us to establish economic equality, human rights and justice. There will no more be brutal racism. The world will belong not to any white or black but to the human being.


The writer is a former assistant secretary of Mujibnagar Government of 1971.


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