As March comes to a close, the coronavirus has produced a global pandemic with the number of confirmed cases exploding across the world. As of March 30, approximately 37,000 deaths from 767,000 confirmed cases in 177 different countries have been recorded. Given the complete lack of adequate testing globally, there are likely hundreds of thousands more cases on top of this, and many thousands more deaths will never be counted and attributed to the virus.
Despite knowing the virus would spread and that resources would need to be mobilized to confront an impending crisis, we have seen the wealthiest countries in the world such as Italy and the United States be totally unprepared, scrambling to respond while thousands of people are dying needlessly in the process.
While much of the media’s focus has been on the origins of the virus in China and the outbreaks in Europe and in the United States, what will happen in other parts of the world?
The reality is the coronavirus will hit the poorest parts of the world even harder. Among the hardest hit will be the global refugee populations, especially the millions living in refugee camps. After having been displaced by capitalism’s endless wars and droughts resulting from global warming, many are now living in terrible conditions that will allow the coronavirus to run rampant.
In the Idlib region of northwestern Syria, several of the area’s estimated one million refugees have started dying from symptoms consistent with the coronavirus diagnosis as doctors look on helplessly due to a lack of medical equipment. One refugee camp in Kenya has eight doctors for 200,000 people. The Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh which has approximately one million Rohingya refugees is so tightly packed it has a population density four times larger than New York City. In the camp, it is normal for 12 people to share a small bedroom and there is no running water. Conditions such as these allow the virus to spread like wildfire.
Large parts of the world are so impoverished that they will also be unprepared to deal with the coronavirus. The World Health Organization estimates that half of the world’s population, over 3 billion people, lack access to “essential health services.” They estimate that 2.1 billion lack access to a clean source of running water. Being to wash your hands with clean water is a luxury in many places, let alone having access to any form of healthcare.
In response to this global crisis, members of the G20 summit, the 20 wealthiest countries in the world, pledged last week to “do whatever it takes” to fight the coronavirus across the globe, pledging to infuse 5 trillion dollars into the global economy to counteract the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. In fact this is an attempt to protect their investments in various parts of the world. They are worried the virus could further destabilize many poor countries, leading to increased violence and global refugee flows to the wealthy countries. In addition, they discussed sending billions of dollars of emergency funding to poor countries to prop up their health systems during the outbreak. They say they are concerned that the health care systems in these places will be inadequate in the face of the virus.
What hypocrisy! G20 nations like the United States and the former colonial powers of Europe are largely responsible for the poverty and lack of resources that exist in many of these places. They have exploited the resources and people of large regions of the world, strangling their economies and maintaining a situation of deep poverty for billions of people. When people have attempted to break free from their domination of the the imperialist powers have overthrown popularly elected governments and funded internal warfare that has turned millions of people into refugees.
The enormous wealth controlled by the G20 countries could be used to address this health crisis through a coordinated global approach, ensuring that everyone is given the ability to test, quarantine, and receive treatment. The hollow promises of the G20 will not deliver this.
This pandemic has exposed the working of capitalism, nation by nation and as a global system. The wealthy countries have demonstrated their priorities are saving banks and stock exchanges, while people around the world will continue to suffer the dire consequences of this outbreak. How could we expect that the same forces that have created this crisis would respond to meet the needs of ordinary people across the world.
Featured image: Kutupalong Refugee Camp; credit: Maaz Hussain/VOA (license: public domain)