Wuhan, a central Chinese city barely known outside China months ago, is now famous for all the bad reasons as the epicentre of Covid-19 outbreak. Known as the financial, political, cultural and educational capital of central China, the city has hosted thousands of foreign nationals residing in its territory working and studying in various organisations. The consumption of wild meat is supposed to be the reason behind the transmission of Covid-19 from animals to humans. People can’t be blamed for eating wild animals as it has been in practice for hundreds of years in Chinese cultures. The disaster could have been averted if the Chinese government had regulated the wild meat trades way back in 2004 when SARS- Coronavirus came into the light. But what is the reason behind Covid-19 becoming a global pandemic affecting more than 160 nations? May the world would have been less mobile, the coronavirus would have been a local pandemic making it a smaller danger to control. So increased global mobility can be primarily blamed for the Covid-19 outbreak across the globe.
Now the question arises, is the global mobility and labour migration inevitable at current times? Is there a way to stop large scale migrations without hampering the economic engine of the world? Do we need to rethink the mobility strategy for a better world? To find the answer to the questions let us examine the trends of human mobility. As per a number of reports published (UNDP-Mobility & migration), mobility is basic freedom with real and perceived value for all the groups across the world. People become more mobile in search of better opportunities and higher standards of living in a progressive world. Although the story of human mobility largely related to colonial history when Africans and Asians were forced migrated as free or cheap labour forces to support the industrial development initiated by the European states and traders. The shortage of labour-intensive workforce in the distant colonies catalysed the forced-migration trends for centuries.
But the concept of global mobility has changed dramatically after the decline of European colonies after the world war II. Wars, political unrests, socio-economic conflicts, climate changes are the few other reasons for mass migration over the centuries besides industrial migrations. In more recent times global mobility has been redefined to brain drains, cheap semi-skilled labour force, higher education and tourism. Moreover, the expanding territories of multi-national and trans-national companies have attracted more people in becoming international workers in the last few decades. Although the process has benefitted millions of international workers, at the same time it has made the world more vulnerable to pandemics like Covid-19. The international workforce has become the primary carriers of pandemics in modern times.
No-one has ever imagined Covid-19, originated in Chine will disrupt the world in such a large scale. The fear of being treated unfairly in foreign lands if known infected has forced international workers to head towards their own countries bringing the virus with them. This is probably the primary reason for Covid-19 being a global pandemic. Had the international workers been treated ethically the problem would not have been of this scale. The international workers who worked as wheels of the economic engines of the nations overnight became unwanted. The states started prioritizing their own citizens leaving international workers in a drastic state to return back to their own countries. This nationalistic priority in a globalised economy has brought the whole world into her toes.
So what next once the pandemic gets over hopefully in the next couple of months. Should we continue the global mobility trend or should there be a serious revisit of the global workforce mobility? Considering the global downfall of ethical business practices encouraged by a few greedy individuals who control more than half of the world wealth, there is a lean chance of the trend being reversed. Whatever be the trend in future, we must agree that the only ways to insulate the world from global biological pandemics are either to encourage ethical treatment of global workforce or taking the world economy towards local economies driven by global values.
The concept of Gram Swaraj (self-reliant villages) by Mahatma Gandhi decades back seems more relevant in the current situation. The concept largely calls for localised self-sufficient economies driven by global values. The time has come to implement it. The advancement of communication and other technologies are rightly in place to take the concept forward. The only thing required now is a people’s revolution backed by state policies to make the concept work. Now again the question is should nations put blanket restrictions on global mobility, probably the answer is ‘No’. A blanket ban will jeopardize the concept of global innovations. People must be allowed to cross the borders to learn and bring innovations to the homelands to support local economies instead of being migrated to work as unskilled labour forces. So the time is very much ripe for the states to revisit global migration policies. Global cooperation in a participatory approach is the utmost need of the hour for devising future scopes of global mobility to support local economies.
With the success of the concept, it will bring multiple progressive results in the long run. Decreased geographical disparities, equitable developments, deconcentrated pollutions, distributed wealth are few of the expected positive outcomes. The Covid-19 outbreak is an opportunity for the whole world to ponder upon developing local economies and restricting mass global mobility. In today’s technologically advanced world the global visions must be “Globally Mobile Ideas supporting Localised Economies”. This will definitely make our world a happier and more prosperous place to live in!
[The author is a rural management graduate from Xavier University Bhubaneswar, working in the fields of skill development & entrepreneurship with a leading social enterprise]