Tech could someday let people even in dry climates
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The worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, but we’re just starting to get a better picture of how it affected the world. We asked experts in a variety of fields for their perspectives. Here’s what they said:
Pandemic is a reminder
of our duties to each other
Patricia M. Davidson
Calamities in history, such as war and pandemics, create an inflection point and a time for recalibration and focus across society. As well as causing much hardship, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many lessons.
Patricia M. Davidson
Prof. Patricia M. Davidson joined the University of Wollongong as vice-chancellor in May 2021. Prior to her current role, Davidson was dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore in the United States. In 2021 she was the recipient of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Distinguished Leader Award.
Firstly, we are all on this planet inextricably linked. Barriers and restrictions may have a short-term benefit in curtailing the spread of contagions, but they cause many unintended consequences, from loneliness to economic devastation.
We need international collaboration, and we need to support global governance.
Secondly, leadership is critically important at a global, national and local level.
People make a difference, and taking care of the most vulnerable should be a societal imperative and the responsibility of leaders.
Dealing with ambiguity and resilience has become the hallmark of modern leadership, and sometimes these lessons have been painfully learned.
And lastly, amidst the suffering and loss has emerged the emphasis on the power of science and the possibilities it generates.
The emergence of the importance of RNA and the rapid delivery of vaccines and antiviral therapies has been nothing short of remarkable and a life-saver.
Amidst the rhetoric of nationalism and populism has also been the extraordinary stories of local communities and global collaboration.
Critical lessons for me reflecting on the pandemic are: that we fail to take care of our planet at our peril; our people are important; leadership is critical; and the possibilities of science are endless.
To quote Joyce Lau (2022) in the Times Higher Education, universities can be “beacons of hope in undiplomatic times.”
Science and the quest for knowledge can be a global language and a source of common ground.
Leveraging the power of science and taking care of our people and planet can leverage possibilities for good. Failing to learn the lessons of this pandemic will be at our peril.
We owe it to the lives lost and immense suffering to strive to make our planet healthier and more equitable for all.
Supply chains must be
nimble and safeguarded
Ray O. Johnson
One of the standout lessons from the past two years is how fragile our global supply chains have become. Today’s world is a hyperconnected, interdependent ecosystem, a spider’s web of partners and relationships spun across all four corners of the globe. This vast network relies on so many variables that, in the face of COVID-19 were put under tremendous stress.
Ray O. Johnson
Dr. Ray O. Johnson is CEO of the Technology Innovation Institute and ASPIRE in Abu Dhabi.
Governments, businesses, and organizations everywhere had to adapt overnight to a “new normal.” That “normal” was ever-changing as the virus continued to mutate with scientists and medical professionals striving to keep up and keep us safe.
It is against this backdrop that the thinking of the renowned naturalist Charles Darwin seems appropriate. His research led to the conclusion that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. The ability to adapt in the face of adversity is the very characteristic that enabled the supply chain of vaccines and other necessities to flow around the world.
A report released mid-pandemic from DP World, a global leader in supply chains, highlighted that 83 percent of companies were reconfiguring their supply chains. The most interesting point, however, is that these reconfigurations were to diversify their supply chains, further increasing the number of countries with which they trade, adding yet more complexity to the system, as opposed to reversing globalization in favor of nationalism and localism.
While it remains vital that countries retain sovereign capabilities, particularly across critical sectors and national infrastructure, it is emboldening that off the back of the pandemic, organizations want to increase their number of trading partners rather than retreating.
To reward this positive mindset and deliver prosperity, we must work hard and continually develop technologies and systems to digitalize and safeguard our global supply chains and ensure the web of interconnectivity remains strong.
Increased screen time hampered child development
The pandemic brought home the advantages of technology. From entertainment to food-delivery apps to even ongoing education for children that enabled distance learning, technology helped us bear the brunt of the quarantine and isolation brought by the pandemic. However, the very same technology also forced us into some parenting choices that are now being increasingly recognized as having caused more harm than good.
Dr. Binu George is a developmental pediatrician and heads the Child Development Department at NMC Royal Hospital in Abu Dhabi. He also is an advisor to child-development activities for the Early Childhood Authority and the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi.
Specifically, we need to talk about the increasing “screen time” that kids were subjected to during this period. Given the extremely limited opportunities for socialization, recreation, and play activities available, families were more and more forced to entertain and occupy their kids through digital platforms of entertainment. This has had debilitating effects for all children but none more so than pre-schoolers.
The ages of 0 to 4 years are when brain growth and development are at their peak. It is at this age that social and play experiences help shape our skills and attitudes, which, if on track, are visible as developmental milestones and can be monitored.
Pediatricians around the world are finding an alarming increase in deficits in communication, language, attention and interaction skills of children who were at this age during the pandemic. A large percentage of these children were spending hours of the day sitting glued to entertainment channels, especially via streaming and media apps like YouTube.
This ensured that they not only missed out on the already meager opportunities to socialize and interact, thus developing social communication skills, but also preferentially started ignoring these for more “screen time.” This “screen addiction” is visible in every society in the world, and so is the increasing morbidity of developmental delays.
It is imperative that parents are educated about the unfettered use of devices to entertain their pre-school children and engage in more nurturing involvement to promote development.
We can’t blame the pandemic for supply-chain woes
Supply chain is a term that few, outside of those who deal with them in their industry, had heard of before COVID. Now it seems like supply chain has become the whipping boy for all economic problems in a disruptive world.
Doug Munro is a retired academic and automotive-industry executive. During his career, he worked in 10 countries. He holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.
Certainly, COVID created many challenges – population lockdowns, plant and office closures, and transportation disruptions, to name just a few. Inevitably, these events required producers, wholesalers, retailers, and the systems that moved products between those environments to scramble to adjust to a rapidly changing environment.
And since lockdowns, particularly in China, continue to impact economic activity in that country, the COVID hangover persisted into 2022.
But these are not the only factors that have impacted supply chains.
Manmade actions, including tariffs, the war in Ukraine, gas-pipeline shutdowns, OPEC output decisions, and increasing political tensions leading to trade restrictions, also play a major role. In addition, aging populations in developed countries, leading to a reduced labor force, created a worker shortage, which is often compounded by political opposition to immigration. Some of these events have been accentuated by COVID, but most would have arisen had there been no pandemic.
A perfect example of a manmade supply-chain disruption, independent of, but perhaps accentuated by, COVID, is Brexit.
Approved by UK voters in 2016 and implemented at the end of 2020, this political action essentially guaranteed that UK economic activity would be significantly disrupted.
The Brexiteer’s slogan was “Take Back Control.” Unfortunately, that ignored the complexities of an interconnected world.
A good case study is the vehicle industry. Vehicles are the largest export from the UK by value, and more than half of those go to the EU. Brexit puts that in jeopardy.
The argument from Brexit supporters is that the UK’s newfound freedom will allow the country to expand globally. However, since all of the major auto manufacturers in the UK are foreign-owned, and all have well-established global distribution, it is unlikely that British exports will be allowed to go their own way.
Adding to the disruption, more than 50 percent of the content of UK-manufactured vehicles is imported, largely from the EU. The result will be that the sophisticated supply-chain processes that define the “just in time” assembly processes of large vehicle manufacturers will be disrupted by border checks, and exports will likely be subject to ongoing duties. Neither of these will work in the UK’s favor.
So, while the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders argues that “Automotive … has clearly been amongst the worst hit sectors” due to COVID and has driven “significant supply-chain disruption,” the fact is that COVID was a problem, but the big hit has been self-inflicted.
In 2015 the UK automotive trade group forecasted that UK vehicle production in 2020 would reach 2 million; the actual total was less than half that amount. Between 2019 and 2021, global vehicle production fell approximately 13 percent; UK vehicle production dropped 32 percent. It is difficult to blame COVID for the difference.
There is no question that COVID posed challenges around the world, but it is unfair to blame the pandemic for all that has gone wrong. The “freedom” Brexit brought to the UK shows only that we have learned ways to blame the virus for a lot that has gone wrong. As Janice Joplin elegantly sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” That may be the main lesson for the UK in a post-COVID world.