Disasters like earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, wars, and viruses keep occurring and threatening humankind at regular intervals and we seem to be learning very little from these.
It is like being bitten several times, yet not even trying to shy away from them. But the novel coronavirus pandemic has turned out to be a greater real threat, if not equal to, than what we witness in star- wars and other scary films. What is born out of wild imagination in the cine world, appears to be coming true in the real world.
An unseen virus merrily targeting people in the biggest cities in the globe and all the powers in the world is rendered impotent and helpless to contain it. It has claimed nearly 34,000 lives in 183 countries and territories in six continents of the globe, with more than one third in Italy alone. The total infected people around the world stand above 7,27,000, of which Italy accounts for above 97,600, Spain above 85,100, China above 81,400, Iran above 41,450, France above 40,100, India above 1250. The death toll has crossed 11,000 in Italy, 6,800 in Spain, 3,300 in China, 2,640 in Iran, 2600 in France, 2,480 in the USA, 1,225 in the UK, 770 in the Netherlands, 540 in Germany, 300 in Switzerland, 150 in South Korea, 30 in India.
Even as an all-out effort is on to, not only arrest the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic but to also find a vaccine or cure for the same, there are great lessons to be learnt in terms of future preparedness and reviewing and re-shaping future cities and settlements.
We make new laws about conserving water bodies and mangroves after a tsunami or floods, mandatory pile foundation for buildings in seismic zones and on clay soil, stricter traffic laws after major fatalities in accidents, fire safety norms after an inferno in a skyscraper, international laws after the loss of lives in wars. But all these laws remain merely on paper, and the world matters continue to be guided by economic interest alone.
The present pandemic will certainly compel some of our well-meaning architects and urban planners to reconsider how future cities should be designed and planned to avoid the visible flaws of present-day urban centers.
There will always be two schools of thought about whether cities should be congested into a claustrophobic cluster of slums and a metropolis or allowed to pan out and decentralize development. Digital technology will also transform the work-style and hence the shape of the urban world. Even Artificial Intelligence will have to evolve to the changing situation and threats. A re-think is necessary in reference to the management of disasters of various kinds possible.
The lockdown and social distancing forced upon people in the major cities in the world like New York, Madrid, Mumbai, Delhi, London, Paris, signals a new lifestyle setting in. But city development and sustainability should not be viewed from the viewpoint of virus attacks and work-force migrations alone, but eventualities like climatic change, drone attacks, earthquakes and over-exposure to electromagnetic waves in the wake of 5G and 5 plus Gs.