Concern over pandemic risk


Madam, – The current concern about a pandemic risk following the outbreak of swine flu is an opportunity to assess our preparedness, and more generally to ask how good we are at acknowledging and managing risks outside our experience.

We have so become accustomed to the normal operation of our supply chains that we have become blind to the risks of a systemic failure. A number of studies, including those done by the United Nations point out that a serious pandemic could undermine the systems that maintain the function of our food supply, water, energy, communications, and health systems.

The guide issued to each household in Ireland from the Office of Emergency Planning suggests that in the case of a pandemic we each buy at least a week’s supply of food. There is probably not more than three days’ food supply available in-system, a result of our super-efficient, just-in-time delivery models.

In a crisis situation there would be little ability to adapt. What is more, once the word would go out, those with transport and access to money would be able to stock up well, while the poor or incapacitated could be left facing empty shelves. It’s been said before: we’re only nine meals from anarchy.

If the Government’s advice in this instance is wrong, it is unlikely to have taken proper cognisance of other vulnerabilities.

The risk of a pandemic is increasing as urban populations rise, industrialised agriculture expands, and growing pressure is placed upon our eco-system. Furthermore, the risk of a supply chain collapse is growing from the direct and indirect effects of a peak and decline in global oil production.

The Government, companies maintaining critical infrastructure, and citizens need to urgently reassess our vulnerabilities and how we manage risk. – Yours, etc,


Feasta (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability)

St Stephen’s Green,

Dublin 2.