As WHO takes the fall

It is indeed about time to look beyond geopolitical and commercial incentives as the world remains partially shut down


Durdana Najam April 18, 2020
PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Just when it was least expected, the frustrated United States President, Donald Trump, discontinued funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). The organisation was accused of mismanaging the coronavirus. It was also blamed for not preparing societies for a pandemic that could chase out any modern and advance medical technology. This is a classic case of projection i.e. trying to evade a difficult situation by blaming the opposite party for creating it. The fact is that since the SARS outbreak, the WHO had issued three pandemic preparedness guidelines — in 2003, 2005 and the last one in 2009.

Before holding WHO in scorn, it would not be a bad idea for world leaders to count the amount of time, resources and intellect they had spent on the global health sector. Why would the IMF or the World Bank not make their funding to third world and Latin American countries conditional to building a strong social infrastructure? Why has there always been a premium attached to debt from international financial institutions? A premium that could only be paid from the sweat of the labourers who had to toil harder to pay the rising electricity bills and the inflation-hit food items because the IMF restructuring programmes’ first snarl is usually reserved for the energy and food sectors of the debt seeking country.

Billions of dollars have been spent on wars and destruction. The toll has continued to rise since 9/11, or precisely since terrorism has become the talk of the defence lexicon of the Western countries led by the US. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria to Libya and Yemen, the cover lent to each invasion was emancipating their citizens from the authoritarian policies of their governments. It did not matter if, in this so-called freedom mission, the misery of untold proportion befell on those countries.

Millions of people have died of explosives, hunger and poverty in the squalid camps and displacement centres. Scores of desperate migrants have lost their lives in seas and deserts while attempting to flee hunger and infections. Other than the whimpers from the increasingly weak and Americanised United Nations and those influenced by the former’s world order, there was hardly any objective reasoning to stop people from dying unnecessarily. One can control a pandemic through social isolation, but countering a superpower on an imperial mission has been a difficult option.

More deaths are awaited by the people caught in war, especially in Yemen. The UN is pulling off a number of its funding programmes on account of the parched coffer. Thirty-one out of the total 41 programmes will be taken off which means “up to one million displaced people will not receive critical supplies, and 80% of health services to treat Covid-19 may stop by the end of April.”

According to the UN report released on Wednesday, 14 million people in Yemen lack access to basic hand-washing facilities.

Apparently, it seems there is no fund left for humanitarian assistance. If that is the case, how come the IMF is doling out funds to the developing countries to breakeven in the time of crisis? This money is contributed through the Bilateral Borrowing Agreements, which is the IMF’s third line of defence and has been reframed in March 2020, to support its members through the global pandemic.

In corollary, it is not the WHO, but the misplaced priorities and the insanity to empower the opportunists and exploiters in the Third World for commercial incentives that has made the world look emaciated and helpless in the face of a deadly virus while all the scientists and technological experts wring their hands in despair and lack of preparedness.

It is indeed about time to look beyond geopolitical and commercial incentives as the world remains partially shut down for what is being called a long-overdue repair.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2020.

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