1. Inequality Kills: A study of the new OxFam report
How has the pandemic aggravated global inequality? What measures does the study propose to tackle this?
“Inequality Kills: The unparalleled action needed to combat unprecedented inequality in the wake of COVID-19” is a report released in January 2022 by Oxfam, a U.K.-based consortium of 21 charitable organisations that have a global presence.
The report points out a startling statistic: 160 million people were rendered poor during the pandemic, while the ten richest people doubled their fortunes since the start of the pandemic. Therefore, extreme inequality should be seen as a form of ‘economic violence’.
The report also argues that the climate crisis is undergirded by inequality between countries. It points out that the “wealthiest 1% of humanity are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50%”.
Vasundhara Sirnate Drennan
The story so far: The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened economic inequalities across the world. Not only has the pandemic led to the deaths of millions of people globally, but it has also exposed the weakness of public health systems and social and income protections for people worldwide. In short, the coronavirus pandemic has brought into relief that peoples’ life chances are directly linked to their access to wealth and healthcare, their positions of power in society, their racial and caste identities, and their geographic locations.
What is the “Inequality Kills” report?
“Inequality Kills: The unparalleled action needed to combat unprecedented inequality in the wake of COVID-19” is a report released in January 2022 by Oxfam, a U.K.-based consortium of 21 charitable organisations that have a global presence. It is authored by Nabil Ahmad, Nafkote Dabi, Max Lawson, Megan Lowthers, Anna Marriott and Leah Mugehera. The report argues for sustained and immediate action to end the pandemic, address global inequality and initiate concerted measures to tackle the climate emergency. The central argument of the report is that inequality is a death sentence for people that are marginalised by social and economic structures and removed from political decision making. The report points out a startling statistic: 160 million people were rendered poor during the pandemic, while the ten richest people doubled their fortunes since the start of the pandemic.
Holding governments to account the report identifies “vaccine apartheid” (unequal access to vaccines between countries) and the lack of universal vaccination programs in many countries as a cause of the emergence of multiple new strains of the coronavirus that has led to the continuation of the pandemic. It also demonstrates how emergency government expenditure (estimated at $16 trillion) that was meant to keep economies afloat during this crisis, inflated stock prices. This resulted in billionaires’ collective wealth increasing by $5 trillion during the pandemic. Identifying this process as “the billionaire variant”, the report says that this vertical aggregation of global wealth into the hands of a few is “profoundly dangerous for our world”.
Why does the report say that inequality kills?
For the writers of the report inequality is not an abstract theory. Instead, they see it as institutionalised violence against poorer people. The report categorically states, “Extreme inequality is a form of ‘economic violence’—where structural and systemic policy and political choices that are skewed in favor of the richest and most powerful people result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people worldwide.” The report identifies higher inequality with more crime and violence and less social trust. The brunt of inequality and the violence it begets is borne, for instance, by women across the world, Dalits in India, Black, Native American and Latinx persons in the United States and indigenous groups in many countries. Pointing to the example of women, the report demonstrates how lockdowns led to an increase in violence against women worldwide. However, the report says that the problem runs a lot deeper as 13 million women have not returned to the workforce and 20 million girls are at risk of losing access to education. This means that the goal of gender equality has suffered a huge set back which will take at least 135 years to correct. To summarise, women who were already unequal before the pandemic are now more unequal because of increased economic inequality.
The report also argues that the climate crisis is undergirded by inequality between countries. Extreme neoliberal models of economic growth have led to a skewed system of carbon-intensive production, that favours richer countries while shifting the risk onto poorer countries. The report points out that the “wealthiest 1% of humanity are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50%”. Finally, the report shows how poverty, caused by rising inequality, also leads to hunger and deaths due to hunger. For instance, 369 million children have reportedly lost access to school meals during the pandemic. For millions of these children this was their most nutritious meal of the day.
How does the report propose to rectify global inequality?
The “Inequality Kills” report proposes far-reaching changes to structures of government, economy and policy-making to fight inequality. It urgently asks for “vaccine recipes” to be made open-source so that every qualified vaccine manufacturer can manufacture them. In doing so the report asks for monopolies over vaccines held by pharmaceutical giants and anchored in place through the World Trade Organisation, to end. The report then asks for governments to “claw” back the wealth from billionaires by administering solidarity taxes higher than 90% especially on the billionaires that have profited during and because of the pandemic. In addition to this, the report asks for permanent cancellation of tax havens, progressive taxation on corporations and an end to tax dodging by corporations. The report then suggests that all of this regained wealth be redirected towards building income safety nets, universalising healthcare for everyone, investing in green technologies and democratising them, and, investing in protecting women from violence. Finally, the report advocates for redistributing power along with wealth by strengthening workers’ unions, boosting political representation of marginalised groups, and asserting human rights.
2. For a reset in India-Nepal relations
The urgent need today is to pause the rhetoric on territorial nationalism and lay the groundwork for a quiet dialogue
The history of the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani, a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border, which is one of the approved points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra in Tibet, shows the complex relationship between the two countries.
The origins of the Kali river are at the heart of the conflict. The Survey of India issued a new political map (the ninth edition) on November 8, 2019. While the delineation between the two nations remained identical the name of the Kali river had been deleted. Predictably, this led to strong protests, with Nepal invoking Foreign Secretary-level talks to resolve issues. Nepal in retaliation, on May 22, 2020, tabled a constitutional amendment proposal to add a new area of 335 sq km to Nepali territory. This territory has never been reflected in a Nepali map for 170 years.
India has allowed strong anti-India sentiments to rise in the Nepali public’s mind which has spawned distortions in Nepali history textbooks and led to long-term negative consequences for the relationship between the two.The maps mentioned in this article can be accessed at https://bit.ly/3qCmcE6
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at Haldwani where he stated that road construction was ongoing at Lipulekh and even further, top authorities at Nepal have asked their Prime Minister to note Mr. Modi’s comments and demand a response. The Indian embassy in Kathmandu has conveyed that India’s position on the India- Nepal border remains consistent and unambiguous. In this article dated May 30, 2020, Rakesh Sood sheds light on the Kalapani issue that has gripped India and Nepal and suggests a realignment of ties. Edited excerpts:
Once again, relations between India and Nepal have taken a turn for the worse. The immediate provocation is the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani, a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border, which is one of the approved points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra in Tibet. However, the underlying reasons are far more complex. Yet, Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s exploitation of the matter, by raising the banner of Nepali nationalism and painting India as a hegemon, is part of a frequent pattern that indicates that relations between the two countries need a fundamental reset.
Kalapani and the maps
India inherited the boundary with Nepal, established between Nepal and the East India Company in the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. Kali river constituted the boundary, and the territory to its east was Nepal. The dispute relates to the origin of Kali. Near Garbyang village in Dharchula Tehsil of the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, there is a confluence of different streams coming from north-east from Kalapani and north-west from Limpiyadhura. The early British survey maps identified the north-west stream, Kuti Yangti, from Limpiyadhura as the origin, but after 1857 changed the alignment to Lipu Gad, and in 1879 to Pankha Gad, the north-east streams, thus defining the origin as just below Kalapani. Nepal accepted the change and India inherited this boundary in 1947.
The Maoist revolution in China in 1949, followed by the takeover of Tibet, created deep misgivings in Nepal, and India was ‘invited’ to set up 18 border posts along the Nepal-Tibet border. The westernmost post was at Tinkar Pass, about 6 km further east of Lipulekh. In 1953, India and China identified Lipulekh Pass for both pilgrims and border trade. After the 1962 war, pilgrimage through Lipulekh resumed in 1981, and border trade, in 1991. In 1961, King Mahendra visited Beijing to sign the China-Nepal Boundary Treaty that defines the zero point in the west, just north of Tinkar Pass. By 1969, India had withdrawn its border posts from Nepali territory. The base camp for Lipulekh remained at Kalapani, less than 10 km west of Lipulekh. In their respective maps, both countries showed Kalapani as the origin of Kali river and as part of their territory. After 1979, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police has manned the Lipulekh Pass. In actual practice, life for the locals (Byansis) remained unchanged given the open border and free movement of people and goods.
After the 1996 Treaty of Mahakali (Kali river is also called Mahakali/Sarada further downstream) that envisaged the Pancheshwar multipurpose hydel project, the issue of the origin of Kali river was first raised in 1997. The matter was referred to the Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee that had been set up in 1981 to re-identify and replace the old and damaged boundary pillars along the India-Nepal border. The Committee clarified 98% of the boundary, leaving behind the unresolved issues of Kalapani and Susta (in the Terai) when it was dissolved in 2008. It was subsequently agreed that the matter would be discussed at the Foreign Secretary level. Meanwhile, the project to convert the 80-km track from Ghatibagar to Lipulekh into a hardtop road began in 2009 without any objections from Nepal.
The Survey of India issued a new political map (eighth edition) on November 2, 2019, to reflect the change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir as two Union Territories. Nepal registered a protest though the map in no way had changed the boundary between India and Nepal. However, on November 8, the ninth edition was issued. The delineation remained identical but the name Kali river had been deleted. Predictably, this led to stronger protests, with Nepal invoking Foreign Secretary-level talks to resolve issues. With the Indian Ambassador Manjeev Puri in Kathmandu retiring in end-December and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale retiring a month later, the matter remained pending despite reminders from Kathmandu.
By April 2020, Mr. Oli’s domestic political situation was weakening. Under the Nepali Constitution, a new Prime Minister enjoys a guaranteed two-year period during which a no-confidence motion is not permitted. This ended in February unleashing simmering resentment against Mr. Oli’s governance style and performance. His inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic added to the growing disenchantment.
The re-eruption of the Kalapani controversy, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did a virtual inauguration of the 80-km road on May 8, provided Mr. Oli with a political lifeline. A subsequent comment by the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Manoj Naravane, on May 15 that “Nepal may have raised the issue at the behest of someone else” was insensitive, given that the Indian COAS is also an honorary general of the Nepal Army and vice-versa, highlighting the traditional ties between the two armies.
Mr. Oli had won the election in 2017 by flaunting his Nepali nationalism card, the flip side of which is anti-Indianism. This is not a new phenomenon but has become more pronounced in recent years. Mr. Oli donned the nationalist mantle vowing to restore Nepali territory and marked a new low in anti-Indian rhetoric by talking about “the Indian virus being more lethal than the Chinese or the Italian virus”. A new map of Nepal based on the older British survey reflecting Kali river originating from Limpiyadhura in the north-west of Garbyang was adopted by parliament and notified on May 20. On May 22, a constitutional amendment proposal was tabled to include it in a relevant Schedule. The new alignment adds 335 sq km to Nepali territory, territory that has never been reflected in a Nepali map for nearly 170 years.
This brief account illustrates the complexity underlying India-Nepal issues that cannot be solved by rhetoric or unilateral map-making exercises.
Rewriting the fundamentals
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often spoken of the “neighbourhood first” policy. He started with a highly successful visit to Nepal in August 2014. But the relationship took a nosedive in 2015 when India first got blamed for interfering in the Constitution-drafting in Nepal and then for an “unofficial blockade” that generated widespread resentment against the country. It reinforced the notion that Nepali nationalism and anti-Indianism were two sides of the same coin that Mr. Oli exploited successfully. In Nepali thinking, the China card has provided them the leverage to practise their version of non-alignment. In the past, China maintained a link with the Palace and its concerns were primarily related to keeping tabs on the Tibetan refugee community. With the abolition of the monarchy, China has shifted attention to the political parties as also to institutions like the Army and Armed Police Force. Also, today’s China is pursuing a more assertive foreign policy and considers Nepal an important element in its growing South Asian footprint. India remained content that its interests were safeguarded by quiet diplomacy even when Nepali leaders publicly adopted anti-Indian postures — an approach adopted decades earlier during the monarchy and then followed by the political parties as a means of demonstrating nationalist credentials. Long ignored by India, it has spawned distortions in Nepali history textbooks and led to long-term negative consequences. For too long India has invoked a “special relationship”, based on shared culture, language and religion, to anchor its ties with Nepal. Today, this term carries a negative connotation — that of a paternalistic India that is often insensitive and, worse still, a bully. It is hardly surprising that the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship which was sought by the Nepali authorities in 1949 to continue the special links it had with British India and provides for an open border and right to work for Nepali nationals is viewed as a sign of an unequal relationship, and an Indian imposition. Yet, Nepali authorities have studiously avoided taking it up bilaterally even though Nepali leaders thunder against it in their domestic rhetoric.
The urgent need today is to pause the rhetoric on territorial nationalism and lay the groundwork for a quiet dialogue where both sides need to display sensitivity as they explore the terms of a reset of the “special relationship”.
3. Vaccinate whole world to end pandemic, UN chief tells Davos
‘If we leave anyone behind, we leave everyone behind’
UN chief Antonio Guterres told the all-virtual Davos forum on Monday that the world must vaccinate everybody against COVID-19 to ensure a way out of the pandemic.
The face-to-face gathering of political and corporate power players in the Swiss Alps is online for the second year in a row due to a pandemic that shows no sign of abating.
“The last two years have demonstrated a simple but brutal truth — if we leave anyone behind, we leave everyone behind,” the United Nations Secretary-General said.
“If we fail to vaccinate every person, we give rise to new variants that spread across borders and bring daily life and economies to a grinding halt.”
Mr. Guterres said the international community needs to “confront the pandemic with equity and fairness.”
He noted that the World Health Organization unveiled a strategy last autumn to vaccinate 40% of the planet’s population by the end of 2021 and 70% by the middle of this year. “We are nowhere near these targets,” Mr. Guterres told the World Economic Forum.
“Vaccination rates in high-income countries are, shamefully, seven times higher than in African countries. We need vaccine equity, now,” he added.
Mr. Guterres said pharmaceutical companies should “stand in solidarity with developing countries by sharing licenses, know-how and technology so we can all find a way out of this pandemic.”