This pandemic must not derail progress on other fronts

Newspaper headlines in recent weeks have mentioned instances of trauma faced by non-Covid patients, citizens who are in need of medical assistance on account of other health problems, including emergencies. As medical infrastructure in terms of hospital beds and other resources are getting increasingly tied down with coronavirus cases, other patients seem to be facing difficulties.
Are our cities, faced with limited resources, losing some other battles as they combat the coronavirus battle? Needless to say, our cities with steeply growing populations have limited resources be it financial, human, or physical infrastructure. They are stretched to the extreme to address and fulfil even the day-to-day service delivery requirements of their populations. And when there is a large scale emergency like the current pandemic, these already stretched systems could give way. Further, as most resources are used to fight the pandemic, resources for other activities may get curtailed.
Take for instance the plastic ban. The nation, most states, and cities had achieved good traction in terms of building awareness and commitment among citizens to shun single use plastic. Or consider the Swachh Bharat movement. Due to some commendable work at all levels, notably at the level of local bodies, achievement has been significant. The Swachh Survekshan exercise to rank cities on Swachhata has seen keen involvement of all stakeholders. One fears that the momentum gained thus far may be somewhat diluted atleast in the near term.
This could be for a number of reasons. One as we noted could be the dilution of attention and effort in these areas due to the urgent and severe nature of the pandemic. Another more worrisome reason could be that the fight against coronavirus may run contra to other fights. Consider the plastic ban. Could the use of large numbers of disposable masks, gloves and personal protection equipment (PPE) add to the load of plastic waste greatly? Are cities well equipped to safely dispose of the tons of such waste that could be generated every week? Another worry with respect to plastic. We had made good progress moving away from disposable cups, glasses, spoons, plates and bags towards reusable ones. This move had the potential to bring about big gains in elimination of plastic waste, reduce load on local body waste management infrastructure and reduce landfill volumes. But now could people prefer disposable items fearing possible spread of the virus through reusable ones? This would be very unfortunate.
Will the need for safe commuting push people away from crowded public transport towards seemingly safer private transport? Will the focus on water conservation and safe preservation of water bodies be diluted, now that other matters have come centrestage?
It is yet early to predict the future with respect to these. However one hopes that in due course the trajectory of progress on various initiatives, especially those relating to climate change and the environment are regained, the progress made so far is not rolled back, and further progress is made. This is yet another reason for mankind to quickly get the corona pandemic under control by overcoming the virus.

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