Now, almost after 35 years, the world is facing another kind of challenge - this time it is not in the shape of famine or flood; it appears in the most dangerous form of a virus officially known as COVID-19...
The world is in the grip of Corona epidemic. Every day, we come across disturbing news from every quarter of the world. Never in my life have I heard of a crisis like this. If there was a natural calamity in the African region, the rest of the world was safe; if there was warlike situation in the Middle-East, business and trade in other countries were going on as usual; if there were political disputes between two countries, it did not directly affect other countries. However, the 1980s Ethiopia famine and hunger crisis was one of the worst humanitarian events of the 20th century, prompting a global response to bring food assistance and save lives. According to the United Nations, Ethiopia's food shortages and hunger crisis from 1983 to 1985 led to an estimated 1 million famine deaths. Around that time nearly all the countries joined hand in order to help the poor people of Ethiopia - masses were moved to donate to the relief efforts. Relief and development organisations like World Vision helped families and communities rebuild their livelihoods so they could better withstand future environmental shocks.
Now, almost after 35 years, the world is facing another kind of challenge - this time it is not in the shape of famine or flood; it appears in the most dangerous form of a virus officially known as COVID-19. And it is not limited to one region or one country. It has no religion or boundaries. The virus which was originated in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, has now spread to more than 190 countries and regions around the world in less than three months. The virus is now known to have infected more than 526,000 people around the world and killed more than 20,000 of them (last updated 27.03.2020).
At the moment, there is panic and fear around the world. When the news of Coronavirus started circulating in January, we remained indifferent - 'Oh, it's a Chinese thing, we are Muslims, we don't eat crap, so we will be fine,' was our initial response to this deadly virus (little did we know that it could hit us too). In January and February, we were busy in our social life - people were as usual attending gatherings, weddings, functions etc - oblivious to its severity. Come March and Corona hit us hard; we all woke up from our slumber. The situation became serious in Pakistan when the first few cases emerged. There were only 21 cases on 13th March and the number escalated to 1000 within days. It's an alarming situation (by the time you guys will read it, the numbers would increase as expected). Seeing situation getting out of hands, Sindh Government has announced a lockdown for 15 days (from 23rd March to 6th April) in order to scale down the spread. Now, people are confined to homes. Schools, colleges, shopping malls, marriage halls, restaurants all are closed and people are discouraged to have any kind of gatherings in their homes. People are confused and scared. They are going into isolation. The press, TV and social media are giving updates minute by minute. I am witnessing this kind of mayhem for the first time in my life. There is silence on the roads but there is unknown commotion in the hearts. 'When will this deadly virus go from our planet?' is now on everyone's mind.
But all is not that gloomy. There are lessons to be learnt from this epidemic. Since life is slow paced these days, it is time to rethink and reflect. Nature has its own way of teaching humans to be humble and not to disturb its ecosystem. Meddling with nature may result in catastrophes like this. If we look around, we will notice that due to less human traffic, nature has begun reclaiming its space across the world. 'Nature has set the reset button' is one sentiment doing the rounds on social media at the moment. One Twitter user described: "Here's an unexpected side effect of the pandemic - the water's flowing through the canals of Venice is clear for the first time in forever. The fish are visible, the swans returned."
'In Wuhan, where the outbreak initially began back in December, the sky which is usually home to dangerous air pollution levels has turned blue. "The change has been attributed to travel bans and the pause of factory work," writes Claudia Schmidt, an author. Isn't it amazing that due to less travel, pollution levels are dropping all over the world?
The virus in a way is blessing in disguise. As more and more people are staying indoors (many work from home), they are getting an opportunity to spend quality time with their family. While socialisation has taken a backseat, people are starting to appreciate simple pleasures in life like watching TV together or reading books or playing indoor games.
COVID-19 has also taught us a great lesson. It has diminished the discrimination between rich and poor. Since all European countries are in the grip of virus, our elite has nowhere to go. They can't even go to Europe or USA to take a break. At least for the time being we all are in the same boat.
This virus, which has shook the world, has also reaffirmed our belief system. There is this Supreme Power and we cannot challenge that. All our technology and advancements have become useless in front of a virus. Have you ever thought why? This is the best time to evaluate ourselves and see what went wrong that brought havoc in shape of COVID-19. Maybe we became too arrogant, too selfish or too greedy. The world was becoming too materialistic and mechanical and nature had to intervene to make humans realise the fickleness of this world. Maybe it's a sign from God to mend our ways, to forgo our egos and stop misuse of natural resources. I think it's time to bring some lifestyle changes. Be humble, be positive, be brave. I am sure this period of uncertainty shall pass soon. Till then stay safe!
Erum Noor Muzaffar, editor of You! magazine, can be contacted at iram29hotmail.com