What has COVID-19 taught us about risk in a complex, interconnected world |

From the mangroves of West Bengal to the vast archipelago that make up Indonesia, and from the bustling port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, to the tropical coasts of southern Togo, systemic risks from COVID-19 pandemic has been exposed in clearly human terms.

Millions of people already struggling to make ends meet, often working in the informal economy in agriculture and living below the poverty line, face a new set of risks they could not have foreseen..

These include unemployment, debt, civil and domestic violence, impaired children’s education, and severely reduced opportunities. In many places, women suffer disproportionately due to pre-existing gender stereotypes in society.

Taken together, these human experiences are more than just a catalog of sufferings from parts of the world that don’t often appear in the headlines. They also focus on a very real challenge: how to better understand and manage the systemic, stratified risks posed by COVID-19 as it spreads across borders.

Indian Sundarbans houses are mainly made from a combination of mud, wood and metal elements.  This makes them vulnerable to extreme weather events.  .

UNU-EHS / Polina Schapova

Indian Sundarbans houses are mainly made from a combination of mud, wood and metal elements. This makes them vulnerable to extreme weather events. .

Life-threatening domino effect

Report, “Revisiting risks during COVID-19“Show how, at each of these four sites – part of five field studies to be carried out in 2021 by the UN Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) – a clear picture of the domino effect, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, spreading across societies far beyond the immediate effects of the pandemic itself.

This clearly illustrates that our worlds are interconnected through systems with associated risks, fluctuations exposed and reinforced the gaps in society.

In the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil, for example, Families already living in overcrowded neighborhoods are subject to more stay-at-home orders than families with more favorable living circumstances.

The city’s healthcare system peaked just weeks after the first case was discovered in February 2020, resulting in large numbers of corpses being left in hospitals and care homes. squirrels, as well as on the street. Images of bodies accumulating on the streets that circulated in global media were among the first to show what happened when COVID-19 reached densely populated urban areas.

School closures during the COVID-19 lockdown have a negative impact on the nutritional needs of children, as schools provide a daily meal for each child under the age of five.

UNU-EHS / Polina Schapova

School closures during the COVID-19 lockdown have a negative impact on the nutritional needs of children, as schools provide a daily meal for each child under the age of five.

A complex, fragile web

However, prior to COVID-19, the link between such risks may not be immediately apparent in our daily lives. Nor is the systemic nature of these risks, i.e. how they affect, or could potentially affect, society as a whole beyond the original problem.

First, we tend to think about systemic risks related to what happened in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, where the failures of major banks spread across the economy. economy, causing millions of job losses and triggering a global recession.

Other examples can be seen of how climate change, natural hazards and, more recently, the global aftermath of the war in Ukraine have brought to our world the way our world depends. on a complex, often fragile, interdependent web of factors that, if destabilizing, can cause. devastating effects on society as a whole. For example, Ukraine and Russia are both important global producers of grains and fertilizers. One of the possible effects of war is rising global food prices, leading to a higher cost of living for those who can afford it and pushing those who can’t deeper into food insecurity. real.

Guayaquil, a port city in Ecuador.

Unsplash / Andrés Medina

Guayaquil, a port city in Ecuador.

It’s time to take a broader view

The emergence of COVID-19 has forced a broader view of systemic risks. The good news is that it has expanded understanding of these risks and how to address them.

Hazards and shocks can arise from outside and inside the system. Exposure to them can be indirect, meaning the effects can be felt in places that are not directly affected by the hazard – in this case, COVID-19 – but are ultimately affected. due to interconnection. Finally, the vulnerability of a system can also become a danger or shock to interdependent systems.

So what actions can be taken to improve risk management, provided that Are traditional approaches lacking in more complex contexts?

One is to understand how everything is interconnected. The cascading effects stemming from COVID-19 make it possible to detect connections that exist in many such systems and assess whether a system is working as intended.

Another measure is to identify potential trade-offs in policy measures: some measures to combat COVID-19, such as school closures, stay-at-home orders or travel restrictions, have had an impact wide movement.

This highlights the need to assess and assess the possible trade-offs and stratification effects associated with the introduction of such measures, because they may have unintended consequences. and may exacerbate existing social vulnerabilities.

The third action is to focus on system recovery processes while leaving no one out. The interconnected nature of systems creates opportunities for positive turning points, by creating positive effects. In the context of the pandemic, this has been done through job creation following the provision of financial support from governments, charities and NGOs, or advances in technology. digitization of orders at home.

Today’s interconnected world is an evolving system, and catastrophic events are often the result of systemic failures.. The report indicates that it is time for a deeper understanding of systemic risks, how they cause other hazards and shocks, often in unpredictable ways.

It also demonstrates that the management of these risks needs to be properly integrated into the way policymakers, planners and other stakeholders approach risk management, with the aim of creating more sustainable, equitable and prosperous communities and societies around the world.

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