By Atty. Junie Go-Soco I Published: June 23, 2020
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
This expression is attributed to Lao Tzu, recognized as the founding father of Taoism. Chairman Mao Tse Tung, father of the Chinese Revolution, adopted this saying when he started The Long March. ,
This saying implies that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point. It always begins with one first step. However long the journey or how big and impossible the change, it starts with just one step.
To Reach The Goal
This proverb teaches determination, patience, and perseverance in trying to reach a goal that appears so far away.
It is a quotation that is relevant to current initiatives to address the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the outset, we have argued that solving this pandemic will need a long-term view. The journey will take years, even decades, but the first few steps are crucial.
The key to the long-term solution, along with the availability of a vaccine, is the decongestion of Metro Manila.
Reduce Population Density
A finding of a study made in Sweden is worth recalling.
The study contends that population density is a factor in this pandemic, as it has been in previous ones. The same clustering of people that makes cities more innovative and productive also makes them vulnerable to infectious diseases.
By itself, contact tracing will not be able to contain the outbreak. In addition to the isolation of ill persons, contact tracing and quarantining all contacts to reduce community spread will be necessary to minimize contact-rates. Reduced contact rates will lessen the growth rate of the outbreak.
Therefore, controlling contact rates is key to outbreak control, and such a strategy requires reducing population densities.
Urban congestion is a critical factor that provides a fertile ground for the spread of the pandemic. The most densely populated region in the country is the National Capital Region (NCR), with a population density of 20,785 persons per square kilometer. Compare this with the population density of Tacloban City, which is 1,200 persons/sq. km. and that of Ormoc City, which is only 350 persons/sq. km.
These figures imply that since Tacloban City and Ormoc City have population densities way, way below that of Metro Manila. Thus, the pandemic could not thrive and spread in Leyte and Samar islands as it could in Metro Manila.
If we go by proportions, the problem in Leyte will only be about 5 percent that of NCR. It should be much less in Ormoc City.
It stands to reason that once the number of the BP2 returnees on COVID-19 incidence declines, then the region will be freed of the problem. At this stage, minimizing the spread of the virus by controlling the situation of the returnees is a crucial factor.
Now from a technical perspective, the long-term view requires emphasizing spatial planning, an effort which takes years to undertake and bear fruit.
Spatial planning refers to the methods used by the public sector to influence the distribution of people and activities in spaces of various scales to improve the built, economic, and social environments of communities. Spatial planning takes place on local, regional, national, and international levels and usually results in the creation of a spatial plan.
Rogier van den Berg writes: The impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic will hit cities, physically and socially, in a way that will echo for generations. How we plan our cities has always been a reflection of prevailing cultural and technological trends and even significant crises.
The cholera epidemics in the 19th century sparked the introduction of modern urban sanitation systems. Housing regulations around light and air were introduced as a measure against respiratory diseases in overcrowded slums in Europe during industrialization.
Access to Essential Services
The introduction of railroads had an immense impact on national urban systems, and the mass production of the car has led to cities that bleed seamlessly into sprawling suburbs, creating vast city regions.
In recent years, digitalization and data have changed the way we navigate cities and how communities mobilize and advocate for change.
Then he goes back to a point we made earlier.
Van den Berg believes that density is the precondition for valid urban service provision, and far too many people in cities today lack access to essential services, as our World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, has explored.
It is the lack of access to crucial functions such as water, housing, and health care, which has exacerbated the challenge of responding effectively to COVID-19 in many cities.
On the whole, the concept of sustainable development stands out at this stage of solving the pandemic.
Experts define sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
We need more integrated city-regional planning around economies, energy provision, transport networks, and food production so that these networks can become pillars of resilience rather than weak points.
Such a planning approach will bring a broader and different set of stakeholders to the table, creating a stronger coalition for change.
The government should adopt a long-term plan.
Redirection in Order
On hindsight, if the national government formulated the plan immediately after the launching of the BP2, it should be in its implementation phase by now.
However, the national council seems immersed in the details without the benefit of a proper perspective and context.
The old saying: haste makes ways is on the money here. Those at the forefront of responding to the crisis need to make drastic corrections, and re-directions are the order of the day.
Remember: a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.
And those first few steps will determine the long-term trajectory of the whole effort.