The poor and nCoV
While on a two-week visit to participate in an advanced course on transitional justice in Switzerland in 2016, I came across a copy of the Swiss constitution, in its English version. Two lines from the last part of its preamble caught my eye, “…in the knowledge that only those who use their freedom remain free, and that the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members…”
The last line was particularly striking. The basic law of one of Europe’s most ethnically diverse countries considers that taking care of the welfare of its weakest members is a gauge of its overall strength.
I think this concern has even gone beyond the Swiss’ national borders, as it has always supported efforts and strategies to help conflict-affected communities in different parts of the world deal with their violent past so they can move on toward a much more peaceful future.
In contrast, in the Philippines, the poor and weakest members of society have remained so because the government considers them a burden to governance.
Consider how the government lately has decided, through the deliberations of our legislators in the two houses of Congress, to cut at least P10 billion from the budget of the Department of Health, while putting more money to matters relating to so-called national security. Putting more money for health concerns would have meant more proactive health programs to promote preventive rather than curative health care.
Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) was conceptualized in 2012 as a responsive and timely disaster prevention and mitigation strategy in the aftermath of a destructive typhoon in December 2011 (Typhoon “Sendong”). As a science-and-technology-based disaster response program, Project Noah aimed to provide a six-hour lead-time warning to government agencies involved in disaster risk prevention and mitigation.
Project Noah was ordered shut down effective March 1, citing the lack of funds; it was supposed to remain in operation until Feb. 28, 2017, only.
For both health issues and natural disasters, the poor are among the most vulnerable. But budget allocations for them in protecting their welfare through more state-of-the art health prevention programs and disaster risk prevention and mitigation are always the first to be slashed.
The current fear of contracting the deadly novel coronavirus (nCoV) has generated a whole range of reactions, many of which are the result of the lack of knowledge about how the disease is spread and how it started.
In several health advisories, international agencies like the World Health Organization have issued guidelines on how to prevent from contracting the virus, and all of them are compromising the abject status of the poor. In the guidelines, people are told to wash their hands frequently with soap, and clean water, of course, and to use alcohol if water is not available.
For the impoverished in many of our countries’ localities, potable water is not an accessible commodity; there are many barangays that do not have access to this. Soap and alcohol are also quite expensive for many people—while there are countless varieties of soap in the market, only those with stable incomes can afford to buy them on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, the country’s top honcho complains about the water crisis because it will make his girlfriend smell, and curses the poor, who are the foot soldiers of wealthy drug lords, for making the illegal drug trade continually profitable. And this is a leader who campaigned on a populist platform, who identifies with the poor, who has “malasakit” for them.
Maybe we should start thinking that malasakit also means malas na tayo, may sakit pa! (May nCoV pa).
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