Perhaps the greatest teaching this pandemic is giving us is that we are all connected. We have become immune to the tragedies that always occur on the other side of the planet, to the news about climate change that will undoubtedly be the origin of greater chaotic situations in the coming years, to the health crises that occur every day but a little further.
In 2018, the WHO estimated 405,000 deaths from malaria, a perfectly treatable disease. As of March 18, 2020, the coronavirus has killed 8,000 people worldwide. The problem with the low media impact in the case of the former is that of those deaths from malaria 94% took place in Africa, a continent to whose news we have also become immune.
Could something be called a crisis if it is recurring on a daily basis? How will they be seeing this pandemic from Africa?
This time the situation seems to be much more serious because it is now affecting everyone, including Europe and the rest of the First World where everyone who has a cell phone and access to social networks becomes a chronicler or a replicator. Now they are not the Others, now we are All.
It is also very significant that the Covid-19 cases, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University, are concentrated in countries above latitude 22, that is where the First World countries are also concentrated. In Mexico City these days it is common to see people who seem to be European or American in a kind of refugee tourism due to health concerns. How many of them will again criticize immigrants who cross their borders trying to escape their own circumstances? How many know about the artificial borders that were created in the colonial era, generating conflicts that remain until now? Or about trade and natural resource exploitation policies that have inhibited local social development?
Everything is connected. Not only biologically, but socially and economically. Any decision we make individually or as a society will affect all others, directly and indirectly. In the case of Mexico, according to the 2018 CONEVAL report, 41.9% of the population lives in poverty, 7.4% in extreme poverty and 6.9% is vulnerable due to income. Being vulnerable means that the slightest eventuality would be enough to already be counted among the poor. And a scenario like this seems to be “the mother of all eventualities”. If we add these percentages, it would be practically half of the Mexicans who live in these conditions.
It is clear that companies and employers, the middle class in general, will feel the impacts as projects are postponed, expenses are maintained and income disappears. The lives of many will be personally affected, we will have to make sacrifices, borrow money, look for options. But what will happen to that half of the population that already has zero room for maneuver? Everything is connected.
Economy and health as disjunctive
Health and the economy are being two determining criteria, one irremediably affects the other. We all already have very clear precautions to take care of our health –and that of others. But what can we do to take care of the economy, not only personal but also of our society? The macroeconomic effects are already being evident. Many countries have announced from their governments measures to counter these impacts. But personally, something can also be done to take care of the local economy, that vital and community safety net that covers our street, our neighborhood, our environment.
The easiest example is restaurants. They will stop having clients for several weeks, we still don’t know how many, probably months. If they cannot support their employees, they will have to fire them, they will stop buying supplies from their suppliers and thus a long chain that will eventually affect the most vulnerable population: half of Mexicans. Everything is connected.
Many of these restaurants are already running campaigns to communicate that their food will still be available for home delivery. It is an idea that is as simple as it is fundamental: we need to keep our local economy active, there are alternatives, it is a matter of becoming aware and be creative.
Alternatives to economic distancing
Social distancing is also an economic distancing. As long as we are isolated, let us think of all the people who depend on us for a living. Let’s also think that in Mexico a large percentage depends on an informal economy where there are no guaranteed wages: more than half of the workers (57%) work in the informal sector according to the latest INEGI registry. Furthermore, few of us have the advantage of being able to continue working from home. What can we do to make a difference while we are isolated?
Of course, everything depends on whether our income is safe or if we have savings. But if we have someone who helps us to clean the house or office, or there is any other person who we occupy their services daily but we do not require them now, let us not stop paying them.
Let’s see which service or product providers, which we normally go to their locations, offer options for delivery or remotely. If they have not communicated or do not have them, we can suggest how to do it. Let’s focus on local businesses, those that already relied on us.
Another way to do this is to redirect the money that we would have spent on a normal day to organizations dedicated to the most vulnerable sectors. In Mexico there is not much communication about organizations dedicated to poverty, but there are some that do heroic work such as Techo or Ayuda en Acción. It’s worth visiting their websites and consider donating.
We will also have to be creative to find alternatives for our own work. Now is when technology presents itself as the best tool –in addition to propagating the new conspiracy theory from our panicked aunt- to keep working, find other ways to offer our products or services from a distance and not disconnect professionally.
Those of us who have the professional means to endure can help reduce the economic impact on those who do not have them. These are small actions but they add up. Because everything is connected.
At Kanji, our landlady, very aware of the looming pressure, decided on her own to give us a 30% discount on our rent for the next three months. Doing so she has launched a chain of positive actions that inspires us.
Pablo Emiliano de la Rosa