This article argues that the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to its epidemiological properties, should be analyzed holistically as a disaster, in terms of its causes, development, impact, and attendant policy responses.
Today the term “pandemic” is both a metaphor for a global process and a specific instance of that process. The process in question is a distorted form of development, whose expression in neoliberalism has produced in “pandemic” fashion colossal but highly concentrated wealth, enormous inequality, and vast environmental destruction, with profound implications for the construction of risk to natural and anthropogenic hazards globally. The specific instance is the COVID-19 pandemic, a global disaster the scale of which transcends ecological regions, national borders, economies, and societies, overwhelming their specific capacities to address disruption of societal functions. The current toll in total cases exceeds 32 million cases, 987,000 deaths, as of this writing, and could cost the global GDP up to $82 trillion over five years.
The pandemic lays bare the interdependence, complexity, and inequality created by the global system, linked in driving the catastrophe. With the increasing globalization of trade and migration, the intensification of linkages is also driving the globalization of biophysical phenomena that is creating problems, including disasters, across scales in space and in time. As such, in addition to its epidemiology, we argue here that the COVID-19 pandemic should be analyzed holistically as a disaster.