So unprepared, and so 21st Century

Sri Lankans were skirting on the edges of an economic crisis even without a pandemic. This was the verdict of the experts, and most folk who have a political stake in assessing the Sri Lankan situation.

It’s true that we had run up a massive debt and that when it was clear there was no other alternative, we didn’t approach the IMF on time or seek a viable remedy.

All those were spectacular ‘own goals.’ Clearly there were long term issues that had not been addressed, and clearly the regime messed up at the time the economic meltdown was staring us in the face in 2022.

But despite all that, COVID was the proximate cause that brought us to this precipice. Of course the crisis was managed in a manner that was too heavy-handed and then as stated earlier if the economy was teetering as a result, there would have been other remedies, which were not taken. The then regime was culpable.

But if there was no pandemic none of these issues would have had such an immediate and drastic impact and so it can safely be said that apart from the policy missteps and the historical political baggage of running up a massive debt over time, COVID was our undoing.

This simply means that as a nation we were woefully unprepared for a pandemic. So was the rest of the word, and some countries more than others.


This unpreparedness for crises, not merely pandemics, is the subject of this article. Is the world prepared for the next likely calamity? Are we prepared for the next likely crisis? Likely not, if the pandemic experience is anything to go by.

This unpreparedness seems to be evident in a not so obvious way in countries such as New Zealand, for instance, which of course don’t have glaring economic issues such as we have experienced.

At the beginning, soon after Jacinda Arden left the premiership a few weeks ago, it seemed that she said goodbye to the job for personal reasons, and because she had ‘very little left in the tank’ in terms of energy to face another election. But, over time it has been made clear by various writers, columnists, and journalists in electronic media that there were serious issues in New Zealand.

A vast cross section of the population were of the view that Jacinda Arden’s policies vis-à-vis the pandemic caused economic adversity that impacted their lives badly.

In other words, the economy contracted due to COVID related closures, people lost jobs, and businesses had to close down. The economic problems also led to serious polarizations of society with some folk feeling that they had been left behind and totally left to their own devices because of the COVID policies that can be traced to Arden’s desk.

There would be some debate on what exactly caused her to leave the job, but by now it’s quite clear that irrespective of that, New Zealand was woefully unprepared for the pandemic. There was no clue as to how the pandemic would be addressed while leaving the economy intact and the social fabric in one piece.

In countries such as England the situation was no better. Of course the entire world suffered economically due to COVID and there was economic contraction, and in a superpower such as the USA the post-COVID issues have led to high inflation and unprecedented costs of essentials.


It’s not only on the economic front. China has had COVID-related issues that led to excruciatingly difficult decisions on whether to shut down entire cities or not. There were protests that the Government there had to reckon with, and though the system has come through and prevailed brilliantly despite all this, the economic impacts are not insignificant.

There are very few countries that seem unscathed from COVID, and even those are not untouched by the global economic slump. But what’s most telling are the experiences of nations such as New Zealand which were at the time of the pandemic hailed as huge successes, but which seemed to have had to ‘sacrifice’ their leaders in a manner of speaking, due exactly to this success that was so enthusiastically heralded.

So if this is the reality and if even the ‘unmitigated successes’ ended up having to be reconsidered, are we sitting ducks for the next calamity whatever it may be? It may not necessarily be a pandemic as most people seem to be expecting.

The next global crisis may be due to Climate Change. Or it could be something totally unforeseen which is in ‘science fiction territory’ when current reality is considered.

Of course it can be argued, is it possible to prepare for the unknown? Even the pandemic it can be argued was not expected, and therefore the general unpreparedness be it in New Zealand or in Sri Lanka is not to be taken as a failure.


But that assessment would be far from correct. There were enough warnings about a potential for a pandemic for a very long time, but the world didn’t pay heed. Once the pandemic was a reality, most countries acted in isolation and a coordinated global response was totally absent.

The next calamity can be planned for and it should be planned for. Also, whatever it may be, when it strikes the world should be united in facing up to the repercussions and countries, whether they are as strong as New Zealand or as vulnerable as Sri Lanka, should coordinate in terms of how to respond to the crisis.

The world is hardly prepared for wars, but it could be argued that pandemics are health-related events and that similar events should not have long term repercussions which are sometimes even worse than what war could cause.

At least for arguments sake it could be said that Sri Lanka’s war so-called and the two insurgencies before that, did not lead to an economic meltdown. It has been said more than once and not with any exaggeration that the economic meltdown of 2022 was unprecedented.

What’s was worse than two wars, was our woeful unpreparedness to meet the economic fallout from a pandemic. Similar issues could be raised about New Zealand even though the two countries are different as chalk is from cheese.

Calamity and disaster unpreparedness at so many levels is unconscionable in the 21st Century. Any calamity would cause damage no doubt, and that comes with the very definition of the world calamity, but the repercussions from any adverse event should be proportional to the severity and the uniqueness of the event.

Though a pandemic would necessarily cause disruption and interruption of routines, the economic fallout and the societal tensions resulting from it were not at all proportionate to the disaster.

Countries such as ours were economically decimated, and even though a myriad of factors that have nothing to do with the pandemic led up to the crisis, the pandemic undoubtedly played a major part as a triggering factor. To take just one example, this writer’s guess is that Jacinda Arden would still be the Prime Minister of New Zealand today if the pandemic had not occurred.

One person’s resignation should not be read as a calamity for a country, but that’s not the point. Even a leader as well regarded as Arden could not weather the storms created by her COVID policies which quickly made her very unpopular among a wide swathe of the population in her country. This was disaster unpreparedness at a rather surprising level.

England is still reeling and of course there are several reasons there, including Brexit. But again the pandemic played a major part.

It not enough to say to the people of any of these nations ‘better luck next time.’ Next time there should be leadership and policy that’s far more effective in the face of adversity, that may strike any number of nations on earth in the near or long term future.


– Daily News Sri Lanka

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