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Economic Development at Whose Cost? Who Pays for Climate Change’s Impact on Public Health and Covid 19?


Krishna Raj

The interrelationship between climate change, public health, and Covid-19 is well established. Especially, the Economic Cost of Climate change is pervasive and increasingly observed in Public health in the recent Covid-19 pandemic. This begs a very genuine question now, Economic Development at Whose cost? and How does Climate Change impose Health and Economic Costs on the general Public?

World Zoonoses Day was observed on July 6th every year to commemorate the first vaccination against a zoonotic disease that was administered, by the French Biologist Louis Pasteur in 1885. The observation received more importance given the Covid-19 Pandemic that crippled the world for more than a year. Covid 19 continues to pose potential public health and economic risks and uncertainties throughout the world even after it was first discovered in Wuhan city of China, in December 2019. Since then the world is grappled with overwhelming global health and devastating economic crisis in terms of loss of millions of lives and livelihoods.

The total reported cases of corona-19 worldwide so far are 18.86 crores, of which 2.15 percent or 4.06 million people lost their lives, which is equivalent to the size of the population of Georgia. The impact of COVID-19 on the global economy in 2020, is highly catastrophic. Public health and global economic recovery are highly uncertain with the fast spread of new variants. As per the estimates of the IMF 2020 report, the economic growth of the world economy is contracted by 4.5% to 6.0% in 2020 and the spread of the third wave is most likely to contract further in 2021.

The Economist estimated that the economic cost of foregone GDP is US $ 10 trillion during 2020-21. Already about 485 million full-time jobs have been lost according to the ILO study. World Bank predicted that about 150 million people are likely to be pushed to extreme poverty in 2021. The future is uncertain, as the WHO and an International team of scientists are still trying to unearth the greatest mystery of Covid 19, its possible root causes, and routes of communicable covid disease.

It is well established that the virus is a transmuted strain of SARS. The growing scientific evidence shows that the coronavirus is zoonotic or spillover in nature and which can be transmitted to humans from animals. The coronavirus is believed to be originated in bats and is transmitted to humans through respiratory droplets. The UNEP and WHO studies have shown that the climate change led by rapid economic development under the economic policy of capitalism has rapidly transformed the earth’s environment in the 21st century and allowed the growth of food-borne disease (coronavirus) and the advent of antimicrobial resistance.

It is a common factor that a frequent change in the weather causes infections such as cold, fever, headache, throat infections, asthma, etc. The extreme variability in climate change such as extreme temperature and precipitation patterns has certainly influenced the prevalence of vector-borne diseases and infection patterns. Public health is increasingly affected by the growth of vector-borne diseases influenced by climate change, loss of biodiversity, habitat fragmentation, land-use change, domestication of wild animals, bringing unwanted pathogens into the human body.

For instance, SARS originated in China in 2002 that was traced to the wild animal markets and passed to humans. It is observed that about 60% of infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic in nature and the virus is carried from one host to another. According to UNEP report 2016, SARS, the Middle East respiratory syndrome, Avian flu, Monkeypox, and even Ebola diseases are attributed to the live wildlife trade causing a major public health crisis worldwide. Scientists now face the uphill tasks to unravel the mystery or secrets of coronavirus by reopening the books on infectious diseases to save humanity.

The change in the patterns of infectious diseases is mainly attributed to the changes in society, technology, and the microorganisms of the earth. Climate change has rapidly transformed the earth’s environment in the 21st century and allowed the growth of food-borne disease (coronavirus) and the advent of antimicrobial resistance. It is proved that climate and weather have always had a powerful impact on the public health and economic well-being of the people.

The outbreak of SARS and the coronavirus epidemic are traced to China mainly due to environmental destruction led by recent rapid economic transformation. China’s economy was accounted for around 4 percent of the world’s GDP in 2003 and now commands, whopping 16.3 percent. The economic development was solely at the cost of wanton destruction of the ecosystems and natural habitats. Economic globalization, affluent society, mass production, and consumerism reflect the dominance of humans over nature.

However, the health and economic impacts due to coronavirus obscured humanity with the growing fear of risks and uncertain future with the dominance of nature over humans. The world community has desolately failed to meet the basic needs of the society such as food, shelter, health, employment, and a clean environment, rather than meeting luxuries. Nature has the capability to fulfill all the needs of humanity and not the materialism of the rich. The appetite of the rich has destroyed the environment as their ecological footprints are high.

The world is facing an inconvenient truth where economic development is promoted at the cost of public health and environmental destruction. The Covid-19 teaches, the lesson to the world community that humans, must live in their own limitations and always nature dominates over society or economy. The health and economic policies typically work, under normal situations, and not under unusual situations, like outbreaks of pandemic diseases crippling the entire world.

This warrants that the world economic situation, is likely to improve with the normalization of public health from pandemic Covid 19, and as long as the spread of the virus is not contained the risk to the humanity and economy is imminent. Therefore, human behavioral changes to recognize and value the role of nature and its resources are need of the hour for survival and sustenance of the economy, under the pandemic influenced by climate change.

First appeared in Indian Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) titled Economic Development at Whose Cost? Who pays for Climate change’s impact on Public health and Covid 19?

About the Author


Krishna Raj, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Policy (CESP), Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore

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