In South Asia, the coronavirus pandemic is at once a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and a humanitarian crisis. Nearly a quarter of the world’s population lives in the densely settled region, but its residents’ access to quality infrastructure and healthcare varies enormously. Despite the increasing penetration of mobile phone networks, many South Asians have limited awareness of public health issues such as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Countries in the region have extraordinarily large informal economies: the bulk of their working populations have no employment contracts or benefits. Differing levels of development within countries drive large-scale internal circulation of workers. South Asia is also plugged into the global labor force, not least via migrant workers in the Middle East and elsewhere whose financial repatriation is crucial to their families back home.
As developing economies, South Asian states face limits on their abilities to mitigate the effects of these multiple crises. What’s more, the pandemic is likely to exacerbate existing political and security challenges, from the civil war in Afghanistan and the civil-military seesaw in Pakistan to the Rohingya refugee crisis on Bangladesh’s southern border.
This compendium provides a detailed yet synoptic account of the coronavirus’s impact on South Asia and the challenges that lie ahead. Short essays take stock of how each country has dealt with this complex health emergency. They are followed by interviews with experts who have studied and worked in the region, including senior foreign policy practitioners, journalists, scholars, and government officials.
Srinath Raghavan is a senior fellow at Carnegie India. His primary research focus is on the contemporary and historical aspects of India’s foreign and security policies.