Failure of UN to deal with COVID-19


On 23rd March, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire and appealed to everyone to put all their efforts into fighting the pandemic, together. A multilateral approach seems like a rational step to combat the deadly virus which is claiming thousands of lives worldwide. Yet, we see leaders pursuing their self-interest and failing to corroborate a global strategy to annihilate the virus. Germany accused the US of diverting their shipment of medical masks to the states. The Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu claimed that the US redirected a batch of 50,000 rapid test kits that the state ordered from China. In a recent address, the Indian Prime Minister said that self-reliance is the biggest lesson that the country can take from this pandemic.

International organizations like WHO and UNSC have also failed to initiate a joint action and maintain harmony among its members. Both the organizations have faced wide criticism for failing to play their part in the containment of the virus.

The United States and Taiwan have publicly accused WHO for favouring China and delaying sounding the alarm against the pandemic. In response to these allegations, John Mackenzie, an eminent virologist and WHO’s emergency committee advisor, stated that WHO declared Covid-19 a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) on 30th January and the western countries, especially the US and UK were taking these prescriptions lightly. This claim is supported by the criticisms that the leaders are already facing for their delayed response. According to a report published by CNN, the autopsy reports of two patients who died in early and mid-February in Northern California’s Santa Clara County show that they died of the novel coronavirus. This is almost three weeks before the US recorded its first COVID-19 related death, implying that the authorities were late in putting a lockdown in place. The WHO also argues that there is a lack of financial support from the member countries. They asked for $675m on 5th February to prepare for its COVID-19 response and the target was met in the first week of April. By then COVID-19 cases have already crossed the 1 million mark globally. As it is beyond WHO’s purview to enforce sanctions on countries that fail to comply with their guidelines, they find it increasingly difficult to convince nationalistic leaders to think globally.

However, this is not the case with UNSC. They are the most powerful arm of the UN and are allowed to instil binding decisions upon the stakeholders. UNSC was quick to declare the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a threat to international peace and security. To mitigate the devastation caused by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, UNSC adopted a resolution 2177 (2014) under which member states were directed to lift travel and border restrictions, mobilise healthcare experts and provide other medical support like establishment of field hospitals and laboratory services. Similar resilience was witnessed to counter the AIDS epidemic. Under resolution 1983 (2011) UNSC called for coordinated response at local, national, regional and international level. Hence, it is both unnerving and surprising to see UNSC missing in action in case of the current pandemic.

In the month of March, under the presidentship of China, UNSC explicitly mentioned that they will not discuss the ongoing pandemic as it is not a matter of geopolitical threat and security, thus falling outside the council’s ambit. They were backed by Russia and South Africa, both important trading partners of China. When UN called for global ceasefire, the member states agreed on collaborating on humanitarian ground. Yet, barely anything significant materialised. The power vacuum generated from the Chinese-US tension has also proved counterproductive to any concerted efforts. With Dominican Republic taking over the presidency of UNSC for the current month, a closed session was held to discuss the COVID-19 crisis on 9th April. Nonetheless, a resolution is yet to be adopted.

Except the US, no other country is seen holding China accountable for the virus outbreak. This could be attributed to the fact that China has been successful in producing different medical equipment from PPE to testing kits in large quantities and the rest of the nations are, to a large extent, dependent on them. In an unprecedented time like this, the coming together of every country is ideal and is our best shot in stopping the virus, which is spreading like wildfire. Yet, the question arises as to how long does one allow China to get away with minimum transparency, especially when it is costing thousands of human lives. How long will the UN wait before probing China over the greatest crisis that has dawned upon humanity since World war II? Will the UN ever break away from favouring their member states and implement strict sanctions on them. This elitism allows the member states to enjoy monopoly over global power. Especially China, who are in a much advantageous position for their immense trading capacity.

However, in the current context, one can see that the status quo has shaken; with the richest countries struggling to find a way to handle the pandemic. Smaller nations like Taiwan, South Korea and Cuba have done exceptionally well in keeping things under control and have extended support to the bigger economies. Perhaps it is time for the world to rethink the Global North- South divide, with countries coming together, shoulder to shoulder to fight a humanitarian crisis.

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