The Covid-19 outbreak has called on efforts from every nook and corner of the global healthcare network to track and contain its spread. Among other things, this pandemic has been highlighting the differences between the countries or people who have and those who don’t have resources to fight the virus. 

Handwashing is recognized as a top hygiene priority and is monitored as part of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (indicator 6.2). However, people from the least developed countries (LDCs) do not have sufficient water or cannot even afford a soap to wash their hands. In 42 countries (54% of the countries with data), less than half of the population doesn’t have basic handwashing facilities with soap and water in their homes. 

Most of these countries are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further, in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Vanuatu, Bolivia, Haiti, and Timor-Leste, less than 30 percent of people have basic handwashing facilities. The figures and ground reality in such countries depict the grim living conditions there. 

India is not an LDC but currently, 60 per cent of India’s population, or an estimated 812 million people live below the poverty line. The pandemic is estimated to increase India’s poor population to 915 million which is 68 per cent of the total population. This makes India as much or more vulnerable than the LDCs as it consists of a large size of poor population earning less than $3.2 a day. 

In this pandemic situation, it is important to understand the world from the perspective of the Centre-Periphery Model and the economic cost of its impact for the LDCs. The Model is a spatial metaphor that explains the relationship between the developed/advanced metropolitan ‘centre’ and the less developed ‘periphery’. It is applied either within a particular country or at the macro level to capitalist and developing societies. 

Scholars such as Samir Amin, Immanuel Walerstine and A.G Frank popularised this theory. The use of the centre-periphery model in this context assumes that the world is a system of production, and distribution is the unit of analysis. While we are facing a pandemic situation such as the current Covid-19 spread, production of essential medical equipment, provision of infrastructure such as hospital beds, and fulfillment of basic requirements such as water and soap for hygiene become vital. 

In the context of India, it is even more vital. Many of the poor are largely dependent on daily wages in the cities and are forced to migrate to their villages by walking hundreds and thousands of kilometres since lockdown. That they are unable to bear urban living costs during lockdown shows that implementing large scale precautionary measures like sanitation are left afar.

This is typical of the periphery; conditions there are usually characterised with poverty, unemployment and infrastructural underdevelopment such as poor road networks, inadequate health facilities and shortage of portable water. Similar state is observed in LDC economies which rely on external resources for sustenance and development.

The successful integration of the global economy led the LDCs to start relying on trade and services as their engine for growth. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused global demand to collapse and left a lasting impact on LDCs’ growth. They are now expected to grow by only 0.8 per cent in 2020 which will be followed by a strong rebound of 4.6 per cent in 2021. While India is expected to grow from earlier projected 5.80% to 1.90%. 

On the contrary, when we look at developed nations and the measures they have undertaken to tackle the pandemic, their rate of generating the required resources is immeasurable compared to the LDCs, especially those in Africa. The US has planned an infrastructure package worth USD 2 trillion as part of the government’s emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic – this is nowhere comparable to any of the GDPs of the LDCs or even of developing nations. 

The Central African Republic has three ventilators for its five million people. In Liberia, which is similar in size, there are only six working ventilators out of which one sits behind the gates of the United States Embassy.

Considering the LDCs and developing nations, there is a greater need of involving the community on a larger scale to develop a behavioural change. David Nabarro, special envoy for Covid-19 to the WHO, has dealt with the Ebola pandemic. He says it is important to win over communities; a sign of success in Sierra Leone was when Ebola became known in the Mende language as “bonda wote”, literally “family turn round”—a sign that people were changing behaviour. 

LDCs and developing countries can overcome the Covid-19 pandemic quicker than European countries if they are able to mobilise resources relative to the latter because the gaps are too entrenched with glaring disparities that can be catastrophic for these countries. The effect is directly visible through the national responses from two different economies of the centre and periphery.

Currently Covid-19 is both a health and an economic crisis; if households and firms are unable to earn and start defaulting payments and loans, the pandemic would turn into a financial crisis similar to the one in 2008. 

Countries in the centre will be able to sustain due to their strong economic conditions and would still be able to supplement their health sector in this crisis. On the other hand, if the countries on the periphery face a financial crisis like 2008, their condition would be far worse than we see today because they are battling for daily survival, even in the absence of any pandemic. 

India survived the 2008 crisis, but the pandemic has worsened the situation as millions working in unorganised sectors have become unemployed. The risk is greater in metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata with high population density and larger proportion of poor living in small spaces. The lockdown is worsening the situation for people living in slums, where typically about 10 members of a family share one small room. 

The peripheral dilemma requires a more holistic approach, either their reallocation or a stimulus package and temporary ration cards, as suggested by the Nobel laureate Abhijeet Banerjee.

We must flatten the curve of disparity between the centre and the periphery, at least in terms of healthcare infrastructure given the current situation. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the impact on LDCs or developing countries will not affect Western nations geopolitically. 

Rather, the response of the West will determine its relationship with LDCs and developing countries. If they do not step up, China most likely will, and will dominate the response and assistance, thereby replacing the West as the main partner in growth and development of these countries.

The need to reduce the disparities between the centre and the periphery then is not just for the wellbeing of the periphery, but also for the geopolitical equations of the West. If not addressed on time, there will be repercussions for all. 

Akshay Honmane

Akshay Honmane holds a Masters in Political Science and International Relations and specialises in state and societies in Canada, Europe and Latin America.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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