Infectious diseases are set to become as great a risk for global business as climate change

A medical worker in Ebola-stricken North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo. (Reuters)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Infectious diseases are set to become as great a risk for global business as climate change

LONDON: The Global Risks Report 2019 jointly compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Harvard Global Heath Institute describes a world that is woefully ill-prepared to detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
In fact, the world is becoming more vulnerable to pandemics, despite advances in medicine and public health.
Global GDP will fall by an average of 0.7 percent or $570 billion because of pandemics — a threat that is “in the same order of magnitude” to the losses estimated to be caused by climate change in the coming decades.
“Outbreaks are a top global economic risk and — like the case for climate change — large companies can no longer afford to stay on the sidelines,” said Vanessa Candeias, who heads the committee on future health and health care at the WEF.
Potential catastrophic outbreaks of disease occur only every few decades but regional and local epidemics are becoming more common. There have been nearly 200 a year in recent times and outbreaks of diseases such as influenza, Ebola, zika, yellow fever, SARS, and MERS have become more frequent over the last 30 years.
At the same time antibiotics have become less effective against bacteria.
The impact of influenza pandemics is estimated at $60 billion, according to a report by the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future — more than double previous estimates.
The trend is expected to get worse as populations increase and become more mobile due to travel, trade or displacement. Deforestation and climate change are also factors.
Businesses need to bone up on the risk of infectious diseases and how to manage them if the overall economy is to remain resilient.
Peter Sands, research fellow at the Harvard Global Health Institute and executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, “When business leaders are more aware of what’s at stake, maybe there will be a different dialogue about global health, from being a topic that rarely touches the radar screen of business leaders to being a subject worthy of attention, investment and advocacy.”
Predicting where and when the next outbreak will come is an evolving science but it is possible to identify certain factors that would leave companies vulnerable to financial losses, such as the nature of the business, geographical location of the workforce, the customer base and supply chain.
Disease is not the only threat. There is also fear uninformed panic. Past epidemics have shown that misinformation spreads as fast as the infection itself and can undermine and disrupt medical response.
The report advises planning for such emergencies by “trusted public-private partnerships” so that “businesses can help mitigate the potentially devastating human and economic impacts of epidemics while protecting the interests of their employees and commercial operations.”
It is estimated that the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014-2016 cost $53 billion in lost commercial income and the 2015 MERS outbreak in South Korea cost $8.5 billion. According to the World Bank, disease accounts for only 30 percent of economic losses. The rest is largely down to healthy people changing their behavior as they seek to avoid becoming infected themselves.
The authors of the report will make recommendations next week at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.


‘Huge increase’ in crude prices not expected: IEA executive director

Updated 19 July 2019
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‘Huge increase’ in crude prices not expected: IEA executive director

  • The International Energy Agency is revising its 2019 global oil demand growth forecast down to 1.1 million barrels per day
  • IEA’s Fatih Birol: Serious political tensions could impact market dynamics

NEW DELHI: The International Energy Agency (IEA) doesn’t expect oil prices to rise significantly because demand is slowing and there is a glut in global crude markets, its executive director said on Friday.
“Prices are determined by the markets ... If we see the market today, we see that the demand is slowing down considerably,” said IEA’s Fatih Birol, in public comments made during a two-day energy conference in New Delhi.
The IEA is revising its 2019 global oil demand growth forecast down to 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) and may cut it again if the global economy and especially China shows further weakness, Birol told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
Last year, the IEA predicted that 2019 oil demand would grow by 1.5 million bpd. But in June this year it cut the growth forecast to 1.2 million bpd.
“Substantial amount of oil is coming from the United States, about 1.8 million barrels per day, plus oil from Iraq, Brazil and Libya,” Birol said.
Under normal circumstances, he said, he doesn’t expect a “huge increase” in crude oil prices. But Birol warned serious political tensions could yet impact market dynamics.
Crude oil prices rose nearly 2 percent on Friday after a US Navy ship destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, a major chokepoint for global crude flows.
Referring to India, Birol stressed the country could cut its imports, amid rising oil demand in the country, by increasing domestic local oil and gas production.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set a target in 2015 to cut India’s dependence on oil imports to two-thirds of consumption by 2022, and half by 2030. But rising demand and low domestic production have pushed imports to 84 percent of total needs in the last five years, government data shows.
Meanwhile, the IEA doesn’t expect a global push toward environmentally friendly electric vehicles can dent crude demand significantly, Birol said, as the main driver of crude demand globally has been petrochemicals, not cars.
He said the impact of a serious electric vehicle adoption push by the Indian government would not be felt immediately.