Coronavirus, Critical Geographies and Geospatial Revolution
By Mir Sajad
The subject of Geography has often been understood and considered as the Gazetteer with names of countries and information about them. However, this stream of knowledge has turned out to be the most important addition to our meaning and metaphors of our daily life from driving a car to identifying the critical hotspots/clusters of any disaster. ‘Space’ forms the kernel and core of geographical knowledge, encompassing the phenomenon of body politic and social fabric in its entirety. In contemporary times with emerging paradigms of ‘space episteme’, this intersection and contestation of topos with the active political space in the public discourse has been righty termed as a “spatial turn” by Edward Soja.
The world has changed drastically in the spheres of climate, production, consumption and behavioural patterns. The imbalances and negative feedback being observed in the environment have prompted some scientists to propose the present epoch as “anthropocene”. Geography studies this changing interaction of environment with the human responses in its comprehensive theoretical and scientific mechanism and subsequently models the impact and pattern of this dynamic trend. Diffusion of diseases and the related outbreaks have also been modelled and the pathways tracked, helping the world and regional health agencies framing policies and strategies for mitigating the impact and spread of diseases.
As the world is currently in the grip of a deadly and sporadic pandemic disease, named by WHO as COVID-19, and the virus as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) by International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (2020), geographical knowledge coupled with temporality of the incidence and spatial prevalence of this global health threat has proved to be the guiding light in the dark frontiers of novel epidemiological characters of this outbreak
Geospatial Science and Public Knowledge
In this age of big data, the need of “Big Geospatial Data” becomes equally important given the complexities and dynamic nature of bio-physical and social interfaces. Geospatial knowledge has helped in the real time information delivery and public understanding of Coronavirus spread around the world. Most of the geospatial data platforms have been in the forefront currently for the data visualization and monitoring, making data available to the common people at any place of world and any time. WHO has provided a situational dashboard updated every 15 minutes giving a real time perspective for officials and users with easy-to-view visual interface using Geographical Information System (GIS Science) on region and case-wise spread.
The enhanced and sophisticated real time information can be viewed through Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). ESRI Disaster Response Program and ESRI’S ArcGIS Hub, including the in-depth information from various operational dashboards with interactive data view, provide key understanding and monitoring of global datasets related to the virus for public knowledge.
Another platform with the expert epidemiological analysis of COVID-19, hyphenated with the public health analytics, is being maintained by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) with its own GIS operational setup mapping a similar trajectory in real time. Below is the snapshot of the site.
In India, MapmyIndia Maps and Move app enable users to locate, view and reach testing labs nearby and subsequent isolation and treatment facilities. Users can have a first-hand account of the facilities and can add reviews of the centres there, helping other users with updated and critical knowledge regarding the conditions and status of quarantine and isolation facilities. MapmyIndia resources are designed for early detection and isolation of infected persons which are crucial in respect to spread of this disease.
The use of this metadata and imagery creates a robust GIS and comprehensive geo-databases in an analysis-ready format and opens a new path for redefining epidemiological studies in concert with the pathways and vector-based differentiations across the world. The use of data mining and machine learning algorithms like Python and Anaconda with the integration of geographical knowledge can help us in the accurate and reliable prediction of threats and stresses whether related to health or environment. Google Earth Engine uses this algorithm based geographical and environmental variables for predicting and subsequently providing effective management strategies for a better and sustainable bio-physical and social environment.
Critical Geographies and Coronavirus
There has been an overarching ‘complexity turn’ within the geographical studies and it forms an essential pivot when it comes to the health landscape of any region, as put forward by Anthony Gatrell. This has turned out to be the potential paradigm for social sciences having transformed much of the physical and biological sciences with the dissolution of binaries such as media/socio-cultural, structure/agency, institutional/individual, environment/social, etc. There is an immediate need to move beyond the traditional epistemes of geographical analysis and to explore further the added value of critical geographies for our research in health inequalities, disease ecology, and spatial diffusion. Many examples of critical geographies can be cited from the fact that institutions, organisations and governments have undermined the character and configurations of ‘geography’ when it comes to health infrastructure and individual healthcare facilities. Coronavirus has laid bare the inadequacies of this response and system of approach of countries around the world.
There are widespread inequalities when it comes to the healthcare geographies around the world. It necessitates a need for a global and uniform approach of healthcare governance in consonance with the changing contours of political and economic landscapes around the world. Critical geographies deconstruct the hegemonic geographies of the world through the lens of a radical perspective. The consequent geo-economic and geopolitical undercurrents are needed for the current disarrayed healthcare system of the world. Keep resisting the virus and the injustices around your geographies.
Mir Sajad is a Doctoral Fellow, Health and Groundwater Studies, Department of Geography, University of Kashmir.
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