Advanced science, Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Technical

Five years since Paris Accord: Are we any better?

Global warming and rise in sea level

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Accord hammered out by more than 190 countries at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). The core objective of the accord is to save humanity from the existential threat posed by climate change. To that end, the participating nations agreed to keep the increase in the average global temperature to within 2 degrees Celsius while endeavouring to limit it to 1.5 degrees by the year 2100. Besides pledging to temper the rise in temperature, they agreed to restructure the global economy, phase out fossil fuels over the coming decades, switch to renewable sources of energy, embrace clean technology, and most importantly, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

The Accord gives every country the ability to set its own goals to confront the climate crisis, in line with their specific situation. Moreover, instead of demanding expeditious and deep cuts in fossil fuel usage, it allows parties to peak greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” followed by a gradual decrease in order to reach the zero emissions goal. It is patently evident that such a vague timetable fits the interests of the major polluters, including the United States, China and India. Nevertheless, beginning this year, each nation is required to reassess its own reduction plans once every five years. However, there is no consequence or penalty if a country fails to reassess or falls short of the pledged reductions.

The Accord also requires nations to address “loss and damage” caused by climate impacts. Since the wealthy, industrialised nations are largely responsible for the backlog of climate changing emissions lingering in the atmosphere, they should compensate poorer nations for unavoidable loss and damage. But even after COP25 held in Madrid last year (2019), wealthy nations are playing Jekyll and Hyde roles—promising to cover losses while dragging their feet on providing new finance.

We are now a full five years into the Paris Accord which, according to the former US President Barack Obama, is supposed to make the “world safer and more secure, more prosperous and more free.” Are we really on course to transform our planet into one as envisioned by Obama? Are we winning the race against climate change? Did we succeed in slowing down the damage resulting from climate change? By all accounts, the Accord did not make an iota of difference in decelerating the progression of our planet, and subsequently our civilisation, toward climatic meltdown. On the contrary, climate change and its deleterious effects are accelerating, with climate-related catastrophes piling up, year after year.

Our planet is now almost at the breaking point. The environmental changes sweeping across the world are occurring at a much quicker pace than five years ago. As the Earth warms, we are witnessing more cataclysmic wildfires turning forests into carbon dioxide emitters, not to mention calamitous floods inundating nearly half of landmasses in countries like Bangladesh, Maldives, Thailand and so forth. Persistent droughts, fierce storms and an increase in extreme weather phenomena—derecho, microburst, bombogenesis, Frankenstorm and many more—are on the rise. The fingerprints of climate change since 2015 can also be seen in the exacerbation of internal and international migration patterns of climate refugees.

Scorching heat waves, of all places, in the Arctic region, are now more frequent and long-lasting. It is quite likely that 2020 will be among the hottest years ever, even with the cooling effect of this year’s La Niña. Seas are warming and rising faster, putting more coastal cities at risk of going under acidic water. Warmer waters are wreaking havoc on marine organisms forcing them to migrate away from their familiar habitats. Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, thus disrupting availability of freshwater.

Climate-induced mayhem is taking a heavy toll on the Arctic region. The amount of Arctic sea ice whose whiteness normally acts as a natural reflector of heat back out of the atmosphere is dwindling so rapidly that the region may soon become ice-free. Loss of ice is also changing the Arctic terrain—making it greener and prettier, but at the expense of releasing copious amounts of carbon dioxide and methane trapped in the frozen soil, which in turn is making global warming even worse. Additionally, scientists have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean, worrisomely called the “sleeping giant of the carbon cycle,” are escaping into the atmosphere. In fact, northern landscapes are undergoing massive change, with potential ramifications not just for the Arctic itself, but the world as a whole.

Permafrost in cold climate countries is thawing at breakneck speed, releasing, just like Arctic ice, large amounts of long-stored carbon dioxide and methane. In addition, viruses and bacteria that had been buried under the permafrost for thousands of years are being released into the environment, posing health risks to humans and other forms of life. Also, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, a vital carbon sink that retards the momentum of global warming, has surged to its highest level since 2008.

As for peaking of emissions, there is a cavernous gap between the sharp cuts in emissions required to meet the goals of the Paris Accord and current projections. In a recent report, World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, states, “There is no sign of slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris agreement.” Rather, emissions from just about every country are still on the rise, thereby making it difficult to close the gap so as to achieve zero emissions by 2050.

The report further notes that even the coronavirus-related drop in emissions failed to make much of a dent in the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. Consequently, WMO warns that the world risks becoming an “uninhabitable hell” for millions unless we drastically cut emissions—by at least 7.2 percent every 10 years if we want to keep the rise in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius. Otherwise, we will soon be north of 3 degrees Celsius.

The warning from WMO is corroborated by a study published last month in the British journal Scientific Reports, in which the authors assert that we have already passed the “point of no return for global warming.” The only way we can stop the warming, the authors say, is by extracting “enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The Earth’s average temperature has already risen by roughly one degree since the advent of modern record keeping in 1880. The devastation caused by one degree rise clearly indicates that an additional 1.5 – 2 degrees Celsius rise before the end of this century will lock in the changes to the Earth’s climate system that will be beyond our adaptive capacity.

Five years ago, the then UN chief lauded the Paris Accord as a landmark agreement, a potent message from world leaders who had finally decided to take on climate change in earnest. Five years later, in a complete volte-face, the present UN chief, in a speech at Columbia University in New York, issued a searing indictment of our utter disregard for the pledges made in Paris. He said, “The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging a suicidal war on nature, facing new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation….”

So much for the Paris Accord! No wonder environmentalists believe that the Accord is meaningless, and with good reason. Indeed, the toothless, nonbinding, non-enforceable accord is an oversold empty promise—a gentleman’s handshake applauding the imposition of a global climate regime on humankind that is harming the planet in the name of saving it.

Finally, world leaders should realise that fixing the climate is not about making pretty promises at grandiose conferences held in glamorous cities. And if we rely on grandstanding and farcical Accords that give us false hopes, we will lose the race to keep our planet cool and habitable.

Quamrul Haider is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

USA – Failed States in all but name

The United States of America (USA), the self-proclaimed custodian of democracy round the world as well as being the mouthpiece of freedom of speech and freedom of opportunities is in chaotic and disgraceful state now. What happened at the Capitol Hill on the day (6th of January) when the Joint Congress session was set to confirm the election result and endorse the incoming president was not only shocking but also shameful. Even more shocking was that the sitting president under the pretext of “Save America” was about to destroy the very foundation of American democracy by declaring that “we will never concede”. What the incumbent president meant was that he would never concede to the defeat in the presidential election that took place on 3rd of November 2020. Lawless behaviour of an existing elected person, let alone the president of the country, could not be more pronounced than what the world had witnessed on 6th of January 2021 at the Capitol Building.

America had been traditionally quick off the mark in condemning any violation or presumed violation of democratic principles and practices anywhere in the world (exceptions were those countries which kowtow America blatantly). The countries like North Korea, China, Russia (bar during Donald Trump’s presidency), India, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, some Middle Eastern countries, most of Africa and South America had faced severe criticism and condemnation of the American state, when they had to quell illegal or inconvenient demonstrations against the states or perceived democracy. Bangladesh in its liberation war against Pakistan in 1971 had faced the condemnation and almost the military might of America state in the form of 7th Fleet, but the 7th Fleet was not used as the war came to an end, thanks to India, before the Fleet could reach the Bay of Bengal. Iran was perpetually under the American threat and antagonism ever since the time of overthrow of Shah of Iran, an American stooge, in 1979 and no amount of compliance and adherence to the rule of international law by Iran would remove American threat and highhandedness. The Chinese government is being condemned by America at any possible opportunity for “re-educating Uighur Muslims” away from Islamic brainwashing. 

On the other hand, Israel violating more than half a dozen UN resolutions over a number of years for developing nuclear weapons had none, zilch adverse response from America. Saudi Arabia butchering a Saudi journalist in their Istanbul Consulate and then dumping the severed body in the well within the Consulate office had been told by Donald Trump’s government that there was no concrete evidence to condemn Saudi Arabia! Duplicity could not be starker than this.

But, as it is said, what happens abroad has a reflection at home. If America thought that they can preach and enforce democratic principles abroad, and practice at home the opposite of democracy, then they are blatantly wrong. Rampant inequality, total lack of fairness, social justice, subjugation of black and Hispanics etc at home had been endemic in American society. ‘Black lives matter’ is an outward expression of frustrated black lives in America.

Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, became the champion of the deprived, disadvantaged and social outcast people in the country by his deceitful campaign of ‘draining the swamp of the capital’. He tapped into the underlying discontent of the citizens against the establishment, against the rich and against oppression. Although he is a significant part of the oppressor, he manoeuvred himself as the leader of the oppressed group by populist and nationalistic slogans like ‘Make America Great Again (MAGA)’, ‘America first, America first’. In addition, he gradually brought the fascist, racist, fanatics and nationalistic groups into his wing and thereby creating an electoral base of extremists. And Republicans, seeing his strong electoral base of almost blind supporters, had to kowtow to his wishes and demands.

But America had serious historical problems too. Since the discovery of the land in the 15th century, called America, people from Spain, Portugal, Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and so forth had emigrated to that country and systematically exterminated the original inhabitants. So, mass extermination was not new to the ancestors of the present inhabitants of America. Since then, black people from Africa had been brought in by the tens of thousands to do the menial tasks of building the country. As they were brought in, literally chained in the ships, they established their homes in America. The slavery was abolished in 1865, but the fruits of that abolition were not fully transferred to them.

About a year ago, when blacks were protesting in Charlottesville, North Carolina, against the killing of unarmed black men under the banner “Black lives matter”, they were suppressed with heavy hands. On the other hand, the white rioters invading the Capitol Building on 6th January were not stopped by the police, although joint session of the Congress was in progress to confirm the election results. Difference in the treatment of two groups of people could not be starker.

Voices from the invading mob of Capitol Building were ringing out, “we fought for our independence in 1776, we fought the civil war in 1860s and we will fight again. We will fight the civil war. Stop the Steal.” The voices were clear and strident. But the problem is, fighting against whom, seeking independence from whom? The incumbent president was directing the operation. Is it not an implicit declaration of civil war against the blacks, Hispanics and other immigrants?

America has serious structural problems too in the political field. Although Blacks obtained freedom from slavery under “Emancipation Proclamation” in 1863, there is still “three-fifth clause” meaning blacks are only 60 per cent of whites; that is reflected in the electoral voting system. In other words, five black men and women are counted as three white men and have three votes. This was the compromise that was made after the abolition of slavery to give adult franchise to the erstwhile slaves. The education of blacks is well below par with the whites. Yes, the blacks are doing well in sports and games as well as in pop music etc, but they are not racially integrated in the mainstream of America. Even a short visit to America will make that abundantly clear – this is the black neighbourhood and that is the white neighbourhood, I was told in the tour of the city when I visited the University of Virginia a few years back.

Obviously, American blatant proclamation of being the leader of the free world upholding freedom of speech, democracy etc and the treatment of blacks in America throws up sharp duplicitous behaviour. Any disconnect will have repercussion at home and abroad. Iran already said, “What a failure the Western democracy is and how fragile and weak its foundation is.” Russia said very poignantly, “US electoral process is archaic, does not meet modern standards and is prone to violations.”  With all these shortcomings, any attempt to pretend otherwise is bound to fail.

Years ago, Noam Chomsky, the most prominent thinker at the present time in America, had pointed out the blatant abuse of power and the assault on democracy in the country and gave the verdict that America is a “failed state”. It is not so much on economic and technical grounds, but on social, political and moral grounds. In this day and age, any duplicity is going to be flashed around, at home and abroad, and that is not a very flattering outcome for America.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Technical

An Open Letter to Humans from COVID-19

The COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus, sends an open letter to Humans on the occasion of Christmas 2020:

COVID-19

Dear Humans,

I am totally astounded and flabbergasted by the audacity you have displayed so far to my strength and ferocity. I may be small, a very small strain of coronavirus, but I am not weak. About a year and half ago, I evolved in your planet in the most populous nation on Earth. I thought I would have a fun time jumping from one to the other of 1200 million of your species. But Chinese government reacted very promptly, to my utter disgust, forcing me to stay within the confines of only 10 million or so Chinese. I will never forget or forgive the Chinese.

You know that I am a virus and hence I cannot live on my own. I need a body, preferably, a sick human body – a body with underlying problems like respiratory illness, diabetes, weak hearts having transplanted or bypassed, kidney problem, dementia and a lot of other problems, as my host. I do not want to go to anybody who is not prepared to be my host. After all, who does not like an easy prey, an easy meal? I hate going to a strong healthy body and fight it out with his or her body protection system.

You call your body protection or defence system an immune system. There is nothing immune from my attack. I am smaller than the smallest of a bacterium. You cannot normally see me or detect me unless you take me to an electron microscope. Even then, you have to be very careful detecting and photographing me. You take the shot from a wrong angle and you miss the point.

As I said, I need a host. I am not even alive on my own; unless I find a live cell in a live body like yours as my host within few hours, I would die. Once I get a host, I seek out the weak organ or tissue where I will have an easy task. First, I go to an organ of your body as an innocent bystander, observe how strong your organ is and how efficiently it is functioning. If the organ I am in is very efficient, then I tend to slip away to another organ. After all, I don’t want to sacrifice my life fighting a losing battle with a strong organ, whereas I could have a very comfortable life in another organ where I can flourish, multiply and even take over the whole organ!

When I multiply in an organ or capture the whole organ, I do not want to rest on my laurel. I want to go from your body to another body and keep capturing bodies. I use your cells as my hosts, your body as my survival machine. Before I make you inert (you know what I mean), I want to send some of us to some other human beings. I make you sneeze, make you cough, touch mucous membrane with your hands and pass it on to another person. I need your helping hand, literally. In fact, the more the merrier.

I hear that you have invented a vaccine against me, you want to kill me. It is then going to be an all-out war with me. I have lots of tricks up my sleeve – actually, up my spike to be precise. You think you can catch me by my spike, sort of catch a bull by the horn? No way. I will change my morphology such that as soon as you plan to bolt on to my structure, I will metamorphose to something else. Actually, I do not like the word metamorphose, as if I am doing a literary piece of work, I call it mutate. I mutate, I make your body cells mutate until those cells fail to function.

Mutation is the word I like most. As soon as you make something to catch me, you would find me that I have changed, I have mutated. It’s a cat and mouse game. And then you start the whole process all over again, back to square one. It goes on and on.

In all of this battle of wits, you forgot that I and my cousin called bacterium were the seed corns from which you were made. From the single cell bacteria to multicell bacteria and then to complex bacteria with RNA, DNA and mitochondria, that is how you came into being. Don’t forget all that of your past.

During the long evolutionary period of nearly four billion years, my cousin bacterium had done tremendous amount of work for you. You, all types of animals from antelopes to zebras, plants, fungi and algae were all made from innocent bacteria. My role was to terminate any unworthy species. Your fellow man, a very clever guy called Charles Darwin, very succinctly said, “struggle for existence and survival of the fittest.” I make that struggle as hard as possible and so don’t underestimate me.

May I remind you that during the last 450 million years when conditions on Earth were getting progressively favourable to you, as many as five times, 70 to 75% of all species of all living animals and plants had been wiped out. In addition, about 250 million years ago, nearly 99% of all life forms on Earth were obliterated. It was nearly going to start from a blank slate again. About 65 million years ago, dinosaurs were wiped out completely and that created conditions for life forms for you to evolve.

Life on Earth is a perpetual struggle. I quote again, Charles Darwin’s dictum, “struggle for existence and survival of the fittest” and this struggle and survival come from evolutionary process. If you, the human beings, think that you are clever enough and smart enough to override the evolutionary process, then you better think again.

One last point I would raise is that do not, not even in your dream, think that you are going to live on this Earth for ever. Since the dawn of life (any life) about 400 million years ago, 99% of all life forms have gone extinct. You came to Earth evolving from chimpanzee about 4 million years ago, less than 1.8 million years ago as Homo erectus or only about 200,000 years ago as Homo sapiens.  A species on Earth lives, on the average, 4 million years and so your time is very much nearer the end. You had been destroying the fabric of Earth, massacring the environment, causing extinction to many species. Probably you had been creating conditions for your own demise. SO BE WARNED!

On behalf of COVID-19   

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political, Technical

COVID-19 vaccine facing temporary problems

The COVID-19 vaccine development round the world is going ahead in serious earnest. World’s top pharmaceutical companies are going head to head, throwing up their top scientists and technologists as well as investing large amounts of scarce resources, even when their businesses are in doldrums. The governments of various countries are also scrambling to get to the most promising candidate and at the same time hedging their bets simultaneously on a few rival companies.

What is pushing the whole world to this mad rush? The COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus, is the most vicious virus to ravage human species during the last 100 years or so. This virus has claimed more than 27.6 million positively identified infection cases and 898,000 deaths round the world. Needless to say, many more infections and many more deaths had gone unreported and unidentified.

The vaccine against this virus, as in all other viruses, has to go through certain internationally accepted and proven steps to ensure safety and effectiveness to the public. If any short-cut is made or any corners are cut, then the confidence of the public to accept this medicine or any future medicine will be seriously shaken.  

Of the hundreds of potential COVID-19 vaccines now in development round the glove, six are in the final stages of testing. This final stage is known as phase three clinical trial. Each one of these vaccines had gone through phase one and phase two testing before reaching the final phase. Only compromise that was allowed to these vaccines because of the urgency of this medication that phase one and phase two were allowed to be combined and run concurrently. These phases had to show that they are safe (with only short-term side effects, if identified, and no unexpected serious effects) and they elicit an immune response. The third phase is the final stage before approval is offered.

Usually the phase three trial comprises, what is known as case-control study, which is primarily a statistical process. The case group receives the actual vaccine which is being tested and the control group receives placebo i.e. simple saline or vaccine against a different disease. The selection of case-control groups of sample requires careful consideration and vetting. These sample groups should favourably reflect each other in parameters like racial mix, age distribution, gender distribution, economic conditions, patterns of behaviour and social habits.

To demonstrate the efficacy of the vaccine, there must be significantly fewer cases of the target disease in the vaccinated group compared to the control group. Depending on infection rates of the disease, a phase three vaccine trial may involve thousands to even tens of thousands of people. The bigger the sample size, the more reliable would be the output. To be approved, vaccines need to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.

One of these is the vaccine that the University of Oxford is developing – known as Oxford vaccine. This vaccine has passed through phase one and phase two testing with flying colours and now undergoing phase three testing. The purpose of a phase three trial is to assess whether this vaccine-induced immune response is strong enough to actually protect people from COVID-19. The vaccine is designed to provoke a T cell response within 14 days of vaccination – when white blood cells attack cells infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus – and an antibody response within 28 days – when antibodies are able to neutralise the virus so that it cannot infect cells when initially contracted.

In the Oxford vaccine clinical trial, five countries in five continents have been chosen – India, the UK, South Africa, Brazil and the US. Thus, a wide variety of rich and developing countries in different climatic conditions had been chosen. The vaccine is being evaluated in these regions and hence the result would give a generic output applicable to almost the whole world.

In the first instance, nearly 17,000 people in three countries – the UK, South Africa and Brazil – have received the vaccines, with half being in the control group. These people would then receive booster vaccination between one and three months after the first vaccination. Exactly the same procedure is followed for both case and control groups, so that the volunteers do not know whether they received actual or placebo dose against COVID-19.

The data will be analysed statistically for each country and the results will be scrutinised and assessed by the regulatory bodies. If the results are positive, then regulatory bodies will approve of the vaccine for general use. On the other hand, if the result is marginal then there may be requirements of further improvement in the quality of vaccine or further clinical trial. This will inevitably delay in the use of vaccine by the general public.

AstraZeneca, the firm partnering Oxford to develop the vaccine, is overseeing a scaling up of manufacturing in parallel with clinical testing so that hundreds of millions of doses can be available if the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective. India’s Serum Institute has already started manufacturing the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate before clinical trials have even been completed. This is to avoid any subsequent delay if the vaccine is approved.

However, a spokesman for AstraZeneca told the Guardian newspaper in the UK that the trial had been stopped to review the “potentially unexplained illness” in one of the participants. The spokesman also stressed that the adverse reaction was only recorded in a single participant and said pausing trials was common during vaccine development.

Notwithstanding the technical issues involved in producing medicines, Donald Trump tarnished the world-wide efforts to produce vaccines with his political agenda of getting re-elected. He declared that the vaccines would be available two days before the US presidential election on 5 November and thereby implicitly and egregiously taking credit for producing COVID-19 cure under his watch!.

However, a group of nine vaccine developers has announced a ‘historic pledge’ to uphold scientific and ethical standards in the search for coronavirus vaccine. The group includes such giant pharmaceutical companies as Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Moderna and Novavax. By their pledge, they asserted that no matter what the politically motivated pressure may be exerted on them, they will ‘always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals their top priority’. Self-publicised egoistic egregious political leaders will come and go, but the pharmaceutical companies are here to stay to produce and serve the people.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Technical

Dissecting COVID-19 Mortality Rates

Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is inflicting unprecedented havoc all over the world not only on human lives but also on social, economic, educational and political spheres. The most devastating part is that as scientists, medical professionals, virologists, epidemiologists and so forth come up with a potential cure or preventive medicine, they find that the virus had subtly changed in the meantime such that the medicine is no longer as effective as it is meant to be. It is a sort of cat and mouse game between scientists and the nature, where scientists are pursuing the naturally evolving deadly virus with all its technical arsenals and the nature is changing the characteristics of the viruses to outwit scientists. So far, over the past five months or so, nature is having the upper hand!

Now, setting aside the biological aspects of this devastating virus, parallel work had been going on to find out who the victims were and what were the inherent characteristics of the victims. If these characteristics could be identified precisely, then from the traits of these characteristics adequate protective measures can be prescribed and the likelihood of future damages can be reduced.  

In order to do that, one needs to have sufficiently large database of victims spanning over a period of time covering variables such as races of the victims, genders, demographic distribution, socio-economic conditions, living standards and lifestyle choices, religious adherence etc. Underneath all these variables, there may be few dominant traits which cut across these variables to perpetrate this disease within the population. To filter out these traits, one needs to dissect the mortality figures attributable to various factors.

The overall findings of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) over the past three months or so in England and Wales concur with the statistics in other multicultural and multi-ethnicity countries that black and Asian people, collectively known as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), were at higher risk from the novel coronavirus. But within this overall group, there are sub-groups where the risks are widely distributed – the risks vary on economic grounds, on educational grounds, on professional grounds as well as on religious grounds. But in all of these sub-groups, risks of BAME are higher, sometimes significantly higher, than the corresponding white sub-groups’. However, this article concentrates on risks based on religious subgroup.    

What had been identified from the study of mortality rates over the past three months or so in England and Wales was that religions offer a significant factor in fatality figures. Of course, other factors associated with the religious factor such as communal gathering in private houses, distributing and sharing of food items on religious occasions etc may have played significant roles as underlying causes in increasing the fatality figures. Let us look at the overall statistical figures before going into the underlying causes.

The ONS analysis of the mortality figures in England and Wales from March 2 to May 15 show that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have mortality rates in that order with the Muslims being the highest. The lowest rate is among people who have no-religion. Although the religion of a deceased person is not required to be specified in the death certificate, the ONS had to coordinate the deceased person’s religious affiliation from the 2011 census data, which are the latest available figures. Table 1 shows the percentage distribution of population of various religious groups. It may be noted that study population distribution is somewhat different from the 2011 Census distribution, as some people in the Census may since have passed away or emigrated and hence not available in the study population.

Table 1: Religious groups as used by the ONS
Religious
group
2011 Census
percentage distribution
Study population
percentage distribution
No religion25.126.0
Christian59.358.6
Buddhist0.40.4
Hindu1.51.5
Jewish0.50.5
Muslim4.84.9
Sikh0.80.8
Other religion0.40.4
Not stated or required7.27.0

It had been found that the mortality rate among Muslim men was 98.9 deaths per 100,000 (of Muslim men) and 98.2 deaths per 100,000 for women. For those who said they had no religion in Britain’s 2011 census, the figure was 80.7 deaths per 100,000 males and 47.9 deaths per 100,000 females.

However, when the age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) involving COVID-19 were evaluated, the deaths among Muslim religious group became 198.9 deaths per 100,000 males and 98.2 deaths per 100,000 females, which were the highest rates. The corresponding figures among Christians were 92.6 males and 54.6 females. The lowest figures were among those with no religious affiliations; the corresponding figures were 80.7 males and 47.9 females. ASMR is a statistical measure to allow more precise comparisons between two or more populations by eliminating the effects in age structure by using a “standard population”, which is taken as the European Standard Population.

Table 2: Age-standardised mortality rates involving COVID-19 for those aged nine years and over by sex and religious group, England and Wales, 2 March to 15 May 2020
Age-standardised mortality rates involving COVID-19 
Religious groupMalesFemales 
No religion80.747.9 
Christian92.654.6 
Buddhist113.557.4 
Sikh128.669.4 
 Hindu154.893.3 
Jewish187.994.3 
Muslim198.998.2 
Other religion or not stated84.249.2 

The ONS report states that with ethnicity included, it demonstrates that a substantial part of the difference in mortality between religious groups is explained by the different circumstances in which members of these groups are known to live – for example, living in areas with higher levels of socio-economic deprivation and differences in ethnic makeup. The adherents of various religions have different levels of education and career pursuits and that may lead to different socio-economic strata.

Figure 1: Muslim, Sikh or Hindu had higher mortality rates compared to the Christian and no-religion populations

Age-standardised mortality rates of death involving COVID-19 for those aged 9 to 64 years by sex and religious group, England and Wales, 2 March to 15 May 2020. It may be pointed out that, for example, ASMR in Muslim males between 9 and 64 is about 47 per 100,000, whereas for the whole population of Muslim males, i.e. age 9 to 64 and 65+, the figure is 198.9 per 100,000. That shows that the mortality in the age group 65+ is 151.9 per 100,000! Thus, the 65+ Muslim group is over 3 times more vulnerable than the under 65 group in England and Wales!

It had also been found out that the highest mortality rate was among black men at 255.7 per 100,000 compared to a rate of 87 deaths per 100,000 white males. The death rate was 119.8 per 100,000 for black women and 52 per 100,000 for white women.

Thus, COVID-19 pandemic had identified the vulnerability of population as a whole and the various subgroups of population. From those sub-groups the underlying causes such as economic deprivation, lack of education, concentration of people in the community, lifestyles, social patterns, religious adherence and many other factors may be identified.  

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.