Looking to 2021: Seven wishes for the year from Prof Tommy Koh
| By Professor Tommy Koh |
The year 2020 will go down in history as a disastrous year. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 1.7 million people and infected over 81 million people. The economic impact of the pandemic has produced the worst global recession since the Great Depression. The human cost is incalculable: millions of businesses destroyed, even more people rendered jobless and widespread poverty and human misery. Against this background, I wish to make seven wishes for 2021.
Wish no. 1: The pandemic to fade away
I fervently wish that in 2021, COVID-19 will gradually fade away. I hope that the rich countries will help the poor countries to acquire the vaccines and a big majority of the adult population of the world will be vaccinated. Why should the rich countries do this? Because no one is safe unless every one is safe.
Wish no. 2: More attention on healthcare
My second wish is for all the governments of the world to pay greater attention to their healthcare systems. Are they ready for the next, possibly worst, pandemic? Do they have enough respirators and intensive care units in their hospitals? Do they have enough specialists in infectious diseases? Do they have enough doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers? Do they have the capacity to identify, isolate and trace? They should fill in the gaps and upgrade their healthcare systems, both physical and human. The next pandemic may be worse than COVID-19.
Wish no. 3: A stronger WHO
My third wish is to strengthen the World Health Organisation (WHO). I am glad that the incoming Biden Administration has announced that the United States will rejoin the WHO. Over the years, the western members of the WHO has systematically reduced the financial resources of the WHO. This tragic mistake should be reversed. The WHO should be adequately funded and staffed to that it can play its indispensable role, even more effectively in the future.
Wish no. 4: A global economic recovery
My fourth wish is for the recovery of the world economy. I hope that the aviation and travel industries will bounce back. I am concerned by the plight of the workers in the cultural, sporting and entertainment industries. I am also concerned by many young people who are self-employed and who have been rendered jobless. In our economic recovery, we should focus on both the big and small business. We should never lose sight of the fact that when we talk about the economy we are really talking about the people and their welfare and livelihood.
Wish no. 5: Reduction in inequality
My fifth wish is for us to do something about the inequalities of our society. The pandemic magnified those inequalities. Let us resolve to improve the living conditions of the foreign workers in their dormitories. Let us resolve to help the elderly poor in our midst with a more generous allowance, with cooked food and befrienders. Let us show more appreciation for and respect to the foreign workers, who are often treated as an invisible people or second-class human beings.
Wish no. 6: Care for the environment
My sixth wish is to treat our planet with care and love. We, human beings, have not been good stewards of the planet. Due to our activities, we have caused global warming and climate change. We are destroying our biodiversity and their ecosystems. We are degrading the oceans with overfishing, pollution and warming and acidification. Let us implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change faithfully. Let us stop the pollution of the oceans with plastic waste. Let us treasure, not destroy, the nature around us.
Wish no. 7: Global cooperation
My final wish is for human solidarity. The crises of 2020 have shown us more clearly than ever before that we live in one inter-connected world. To survive and prosper in this world, there is no substitute for international cooperation, both at the regional and global levels. We must therefore strengthen, not weaken, our multilateral institutions.
About the author
Professor Tommy Koh is Professor at NUS Law, and the Rector of NUS Tembusu College. He is also Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Chairman of the Centre for International Law of NUS; and Special Advisor of the Institute of Policy Studies at NUS. A veteran diplomat and academic, Prof Koh’s former roles include being Dean of NUS Law (1971-1974), Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1968-1971 and 1974-1984), and Singapore’s Chief Negotiator for the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (2000-2003).
Looking to 2021 is a series of commentaries on what readers can expect in the new year. This is the first installment of the series.