The nature of Covid-19 is highly contagious, it spreads from individual to individual in a rapid progression. There is also no possible means yet discovered or innovated to counter the spread, cure or immunize individuals against the disease. Thus the measure of physical distancing of people from people have been adapted as an immediate measure to contain and counter the disease in the mean while.
If we follow the trend, we come through the fact that majority of the concentration of the disease is in the urban spaces. From Wuhan, then Milan and Madrid , Seattle, New York City to New Delhi and Mumbai. Modern cities seem more vulnerable to its devastating spread and have accounted for the largest number of cases throughout the globe.
Today, majority of the population on the Earth lives on only 3% to 4% of the available land. The United Nations agencies estimated, in 2009, that half the world’s population lived in urban areas for the first time in human history. Over 4 billion people live in cities today, six times as many as did in 1950. In 2000, there were 371 cities of a million or more people in the world; by 2018, that number was 548.
The process of urbanization takes place because of people migrating in a large scale to areas which offer better trade, livelihood or social desires, but the major chunk of the migration is forced. It takes place due to absence of various kinds of needs which are required for a bare life to exist such as, education, employment, better medical facilities etc. This is leading to a concentration of large number of people in a small area.
The concentration of large numbers of people in small areas led humans to live in close proximity. Humans did not evolve to live in such close proximity. Close physical contact spreads germs, which is why medieval and early-modern cities were so pestilential. London became the first city to break two million people in the early 1800s, and it suffered terrible outbreaks of cholera (then a brand-new disease) in the following decades.
The idea of urbanization comes in attached with the capitalist notion of division of labor. This Division of labor eventually force individuals to depend on the market for their daily requirements. Thus creation of dependency of every individual on the other in order to exist. Thus market in urban spaces creates a situation where every individual is bound to go through social interactions to get their basic requirements.
Increasing population in urban areas has in the recent times resulted into increasing demands for various types of goods. This has resulted an increased demand of supply chain facilities at an increasingly faster rate of supply. The world has become borderless which in turn has created a greater space for transportation of diseases from one part of the world to the other part. Making the urban centers more vulnerable to the pandemics.
Accumulation of population in big cities has resulted into expansion of cities on one hand. This expansion leads to variable housing costs in urban areas depending on the facilities near any area. This has also resulted into more number of people who travel through public transportation system making them highly crowded. This results into creating a greater propensity of transmission of any kind of disease.
Along with the above issues, with the increase in population in urban areas and variable housing costs, there is a phenomenon of high population accumulation in one part of the city while lower in other part of the city. The areas which have cheaper housing costs tend higher population density and vice-versa. The people on the margins are forced to live in congested localities.
These localities do not have proper ventilation, waste disposal mechanisms, provision of safe water and sanitation, and injury prevention, to the interface between urban poverty, environment and health. Dharavi in Mumbai is Asia’s largest slum, whereas Bhalswa slum in New Delhi consists of 20% of its population. In almost every major urban settlement throughout the world there is such a settlement.
The centralization of population is taking place at a much rapid manner. With highly unplanned and unsustainable patterns of urban development, developing cities make focal points for many emerging environment and health hazards. These urban spaces are creators, incubators and perpetuators of poverty and inequality too which makes the people on the more vulnerable to a crisis on one hand, on the other it makes more difficult for them to come out of the crisis.
Perks of the urban infrastructure is enjoyed by people who are situated with an element of economic, social or political capital. From better housing facilities, cleanliness of social spaces, population density availability of facilities provided by the state or the market are majorly for the consumption of this class of population. Whereas the maximum population is pushed to live in the periphery.
In recent Netflix movie “The Platform,” director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia put forward the allegory about class warfare and increasing fragility of our social pyramid. In the movie there are people assigned to different levels in a prison kind of structure, each level having two inmates. An arrangement of food is provided, cooked with precision, served in the best manner it could be. But maximum amount of the food is consumed at the top levels leaving leftover for the intermediary levels and no food after a specific level.
Going along with what Gandhi said that the Earth’s produce is enough for everyone’s need and nothing for anyone’s greed, we can take the debate further to the area which is highly ignored by everyone. The people who are placed at the outermost region of the society. In the movie, as we go down to the lower levels people are forced to eat the other person’s leftovers. As we go further down people eat other inmates and in various situations are dragged to die of hunger.
In the crisis, which the world presently is in, the fallouts of the fallacies of trickle down affect claimed by neo-liberal economics or Reaganism and or Thatcherism is coming to the forefront. We see a similar situation such as the movie, there are people who are not facing any kinds of difficulties rather enjoying the crisis in various ways. There is also an area where maximum proportion of the population reside, where people have been further marginalized in the times of the crisis and are fighting every minute for their survival.
Historically urban spaces have been more susceptible to fall into the prey of contagious diseases. Thus an important part of the history of urbanization is building and managing your way out of infectious diseases, such as cholera etc. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) hit global cities like Beijing, Hong Kong, Toronto and Singapore hard in 2003. COVID-19, goes beyond selective global financial centers and lays bare a global production and consumption network that sprawls across urban regions on several continents.
About 68% of the global population expected to live in cities by 2050. Chennai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai are among top 10 populated cities in the world and there are other urban spaces coming up at a rapid pace. COVID-19 should prompt some reflection on our vulnerabilities and how to limit them in the future. We need to understand the landscapes of emerging extended urbanization better if we want to predict, avoid and react to emerging disease outbreaks more efficiently. We also need to critically look into the structure in which we live in from the last person’s perspective or Gandhian idea of “Antyodaya”.
*The author, a young professional engineer and a student of Master’s course in Delhi University lives in New Delhi. He may be contacted at his mail ID [email protected]