AUTHOR: KALU REJOICE CHIOMA
INSTITUTION: UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA
In the words of Arnold. H. Glasow, one of America’s famous businessmen and writer, “one of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognise a problem before it becomes an emergency”. Insightful, are the words of English soldier Robert Baden-Powell, who said “being prepared means that a scout must prepare himself by previously thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise”. The world is occasionally hit by global emergencies in various sectors like health and environment which takes its toll the economic sector as well as other sectors of nations, especially when they are unprepared for such emergencies. However, the enactment of laws and institution of policies nationally and internationally can go a long way to curb the negative effects of global emergencies. This essay aims to examine the role of laws and policies in cushioning the negative effects of global emergencies.
The Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary (8th ed.) defines an emergency as a sudden serious event or situation which needs immediate action to deal with it. Thus, a global emergency is an event that poses an immediate risk internationally and requires urgent global attention. For instance in the health sector, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines a global health emergency as an event where a disease has the risk to spread internationally e.g a pandemic. In
February 1996, the WHO declared tuberculosis a global emergencies and recently on 31st January, 2020, the Corona virus was declared a global emergency. Being the most current global emergency world today the virus will be used as a reference in this essay.
The quest to contain the COVID-19 pandemic came with the price of slowing down the economic activity of nations; the social distancing and movement restrictions saw the closing of airports, schools, banks, companies and other national and international economic outlets, this cutting down national revenue. With countries compelled to enforce strict curfew on their citizens, what started as a reduction of economic activity slowing metamorphosed into a complete shut-down of the economy in many nations, impeding supply and demand. The economic shock of the virus has been compared to the Great Financial Crisis of 2007/2008. In Nigeria, the economy faced a backlash following the fall in the price of crude oil to $30 as a result of trade impediment and the infusion of fund into building isolation centers coupled with the non-flow of income into the economy.
In the light of preparedness for global emergencies, in 2014, during the breakout of the Ebola Virus, the former president of the United States of Barak Obama expressed the importance of taking actions through laws and policies in preparation for a pandemic. In his word“… we have to put in place an infrastructure, not just at home but also globally that allows us to see it quickly, isolate it quickly and respond to it quickly…”. Making policies to strengthen the infrastructure and sectors of the most affected areas of the economy from global emergencies to curb any crippling effect on the economy. In the case of global health emergencies which are the most prevalent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that health emergencies tests how effectively regulatory strategies, social contract principles and human rights have been embodied in the written laws of a country and how these embodiments guide . Significantly, the WHO stressed that promoting a robust health infrastructure in every country, is the most effective longterm preparedness strategy for global health emergencies. This includes the physical structures and the laws and policies that empower and limit private and government action concerning health. In Nigeria, for instance, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the weakness of our health policies in both infrastructure and human resources. The economy bore the brunt as unprecedented funds had to be channeled to the building if isolation centers as available structures were insufficient to meet the demand of the confirmed cases, making a twist of the 44.50 billion naira allocated to health in the 2019/2020 budget. The WHO also notes that the demands of such global health emergencies are effected through and subject to national laws. The same applies to other areas in which global emergencies arise like the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.
In pre-emption of the economic effect of global emergencies, there must be strengthening of the vulnerable sectors of the economy in anticipation of such emergencies, which must reflect in the laws and policies made. Policies for a more digitalized system of work would curb the negative impact left on the work-force and labour. With the recent pandemic, the nation’s economic activities came to a standstill for weeks while viable income was lost, workers where laid off and companies and schools struggling to have a more digitalized and virtual system of work. More so, the economy was caught up in an already weak position. Policies and laws for the strengthening of the economy through diversification, institution of efficient national health insurance schemes, demographic data, effective tax system should be made in recognition of the possibility of global emergencies that may shake the pillars of the economy.
Furthermore the budgeting system should reflect pre-emption of such emergencies. The budget of every fiscal year is signed into law after deliberation by the legislature. The recognition of the risk of global emergencies will inadvertently reduce the risk of adverse economic effect. A percentage of the expected expenditure should be set-aside to tackle any emergency that may arise.
The Great Financial Crisis of 2007, which was declared a global emergency also came with lessons for the role of laws and policies in dealing with global emergencies. In an article, Eszter Solt notes in an article that numerous and creative monetary and fiscal policies as well as financial interventions were deployed by the European Union or in the US, China and Japan to mitigate the impact of the crisis. This includes financial regulations and a reform of the global financial system to prevent intense shock in the future. Advanced planning was the bane of these policies and included; widespread implementation of complex and non-transparent financial instruments, high level of national and cross-border, interconnectedness of financial markets, banks and institutions and a high degree of leverage of financial institutions, response plans from examining past events and drawing conclusions and lessons from them, for instance, just as Barak Obama noted, the outbreak of the Ebola virus, exposed the need for more health facilities and public health laws.
More so, policies and laws are to be made not just for prevention and a stronger economy, but also for citizens’ aid in the event of emergencies. During the pandemic, countries like the USA and China who had well instituted citizens’ aid policies and comprehensive demographic data were able to help their citizens financially and encourage compliance to social distancing laws while flattening the curve of the virus. Unfortunately, this was not effected properly in Nigeria die to lack of an existing citizen aid policy and comprehensive data. The economy in turn suffered from the restricted flow and circulation of money. The examination of the financial crisis revealed that lack of enforcing the existing fiscal rules and absence of essential strategies provided a partial diagnosis for the crisis.
Conclusively, we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, and global emergencies will always takes it’s toll on the economy, thus pre-emptive measures and flexible policies should be put in place to tackle economical issues that may arise and mitigate the effect of these emergencies. Like Glasow said, we must recognise the problem before it becomes an emergency.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Kalu Rejoice Chioma is a law student of the University of Nigeria. She has interests in corporate law, human rights, intellectual property law, public speaking, research and advocacy, and a strong desire to rise to the best of her abilities in the legal world and beyond.
For knowledge and Justice