Rethinking risks in times of COVID-19

A new UN report has shed fresh light on the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed cascading risks, particularly on vulnerable people, worldwide. From the mangroves of West Bengal to the vast archipelago that makes up Indonesia, and from the bustling port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, to the tropical shores of southern Togo, systemic risks from the COVID-19 pandemic have been exposed in stark human terms. Millions of people who were already struggling to make ends meet, often working in the informal economy in agriculture and surviving below the poverty line, had to contend with a host of new risks that they could not possibly have foreseen. These included joblessness, debt, civil and domestic violence, children’s education derailed, and opportunities severely diminished. In many locations, women suffered disproportionately due to pre-existing gender biases in society. Taken together, these human experiences are not just a catalogue of suffering from places in the world that are not often in the headlines. They also bring into sharp focus a very real challenge: how to better understand and manage the cascading, systemic risks that resulted from COVID-19 as it spread across borders. The report, “Rethinking risks in times of COVID-19” shows how, in each of these four locations – part of five field studies carried out in 2021 by the UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) – a clear picture emerges of a domino effect, resulting from the outbreak of COVID-19, that rippled across societies far beyond the immediate effects of the pandemic itself.