At the beginning of April, just after the first phase of South Africa’s hard lockdown at level 5 was announced, I, together with a number of colleagues from Southern Africa and further afield, was approached by the Regional Office of UNESCO for Southern Africa in Harare with an invitation to produce a short video on Covid 19 from an ethical perspective. The idea was to raise awareness about the ethical challenges of Covid 19 and societal responses to it.
I produced two short videos, with the respective texts used in each one reproduced below. You can look at these videos on the official UNESCO website, together with a number of other similar ones, following this link: https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-provides-ethical-frameworks-covid-19-responses
A View from solidarity
One of the biggest challenges we currently experience in our time of crisis, is that measures to fight the virus can be as lethal as the virus itself.
We cannot avoid lockdowns and physical distancing, yes, and we have to enforce them, yes, but at the same time we disrupt essential supplies of food, water and medicines to poor and vulnerable communities, or isolate women and children in toxic environments where they are exposed to violence, rape and even murder.
We all know that we have to prevent this, but why do we fail in this effort so spectacularly? I think it is because we still see ourselves as separate from them, the poor and the vulnerable, we are different from them; they are just categories in a system of social classification; they can be the collateral damage while we save ourselves.
It need not be like this, and it should not be like this. Indeed, we need to change this.
If we really want to make a difference and act in solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, we need to see them as we see ourselves: as people, just like us; as people living in the same home as we do, as people living in the same room as we do, requiring the very same support and safety as we do, having the same human rights that we so comfortably claim for ourselves.
So, to make our solidarity concrete, all decision-makers at all levels should ask themselves when they make and implement policies to fight the virus:
- Are they flexible enough to be changed and adapted if evidence emerge that they are becoming more dangerous than the virus itself?
- Can we hear the poor and the vulnerable when they speak out about these dangers?
- Do we make it safe and easy for them to raise their voices and point out what they experience? Or do we silence and ignore them, as it is so easy to do from a position of power?
A view from Environmental Ethics
Scientists have explored possible links between climate change and virus transfer between species for quite some time now. Interest in this theme has been strengthened by the Covid-19 crisis, even if there is no evidence of a direct link between climate change and Covid-19.
Global warming, scientists point out, can change the range of a virus or its host species, bringing them in contact with new species to which the virus can spread, including humans. Humans can also spread a virus back to nature or wild animals, and so the cycle goes on.
Accordingly, some countries have started to regulate human-wildlife interaction, trade in wildlife, and selling of wildlife meat.
The worrisome expectation is that Covid-19 could be one of many more pandemics humanity will suffer in the future. As we penetrate deeper and deeper into wilderness areas and destabilize ecosystems, we may expose ourselves more and more to pathogens that we do not understand, cannot control, and have little or no immunity to.
From the point of view of environmental ethics, a precautionary approach should be promoted in order to prevent further harm to already destabilized human and other populations. Ultimately, safeguarding our biodiversity will be vital.
We also should call upon our scientists to help us better understand the nature, extent and depth of our disturbed relationship with nature and other non-human species. Our humanity, and the dignity of our lives in interaction with one another and non-human life seems to be utterly dependent on such knowledge.