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18th SAARC Summit: A Missed Opportunity for South Asia?

By Monisha Biswas

We are aware that the Millennium Development Goals set a target to half down poverty and hunger by 2015 and we know the status of progress. But many of us are not aware about a much comprehensive framework SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) which covers 22 goals related to livelihood, environment and various social dimensions.

Perhaps one of the most progressive set of goals which goes beyond economic goals and brings other essential social dimensions, the SDGs were adopted in 2006 during the 13th SAARC Summit in Bangladesh with the target of five-year timeframe until 2012.

Today, the 18th SAARC Summit is taking place in Kathmandu, Nepal during 26 and 27 November 2014. The civil society actors and people representatives are also meeting under People’s SAARC process with the same spirit to share their concerns and recommendations to take the process forward.

But the reality is neither the state leaders or development organizations had much hope and expectations from SAARC. During my participation of SAARC Policy Forum early this month in which more than 40 parliamentarians, academia, government officials, and CSO representatives discussed key development issues like Disaster, Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, shared the same feelings that millions of people’s lives and livelihood can be saved only through implementation of the commitment already made under SAARC.

Most of those commitments are made years ago under SAARC SEED Bank and Food Bank Agreement (2004), Thimphu Statement on Climate Change (2010), Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters, and the SAARC Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management (2011). However, either the progress is at a snail’s pace or nothing at all.

Statistics show that poverty and hunger are declining with economic growth but South Asia is still home to the highest number of hungry and malnourished people (295 million as per FAO report). Political instability, inequality, and poor infrastructure have led to slow progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition across the region. Even for Bangladesh which has succeeded in halving down the poverty, a government report recognizes that the malnutrition level is alarming.

I truly hope with a high rise of economic growth in India followed by Bangladesh and others, South Asia can set an example in regional cooperation which is much needed in the present context. At the regional forum, we have observed that without an open and transparent accountability mechanism, we are failing to hold the SAARC leaders to keep on their promises. We identified SAARC could emerge as a new body to negotiate for climate fund when rich countries are stepping back from their previous commitment under UNFCCC process.

We urge the SAARC leaders to reinforce their commitment and ensure implementations on the following commitments:

Disaster Management:

  • SAARC leaders must prioritize sharing of information on expected rains and water flows ahead of floods and develop gender sensitive disaster risk reduction plans at community level.
  • Strengthen the SAARC Secretariat and Disaster Management Center to improve collaboration with CSOs and policy research institutions.
  • Governments should form special parliamentary committees on disaster management and climate change adaptation responsible for oversight of disaster management authorities. The parliamentary committees of all SAARC member states should establish regular coordination mechanisms.
  • Governments must integrate DRR-CCA across sectoral development plans at national, district and local levels – such as Agriculture and Food Security, Education, Health, Urban Planning and Environment, Water and Sanitation.

Climate Change:

  • The Inter-Governmental Expert Group on Climate Change established under the Thimphu Statement must be reinvigorated to develop clear policy direction and guidance for regional cooperation.
  • SAARC must prioritize the development of its hydropower potential and reduce its carbon-fuel dependency for energy generation.
  • SAARC should jointly push rich countries for increasing their contribution to the Green Climate Fund so that South Asia can benefit to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Agriculture and Food Security:

  • SAARC Food and Seed Bank operationalization should be made a priority by simplifying triggers and procedures for access and removing barriers to their use.
  • The capacity of the SAARC Agriculture Center must be enhanced to support regional agricultural collaboration and research and development.
  • Mechanisms should be institutionalized to include the concerns of small-holder farmers particularly women farmers in the operationalization of the SAARC Seed and Food Banks.


Together we can build a new South Asia!


Monisha Biswas is Policy Advocacy Manager at Oxfam in Bangladesh.

Learn more about Oxfam works in Bangladesh, you can visit: www.oxfam.org/bangladesh | www.oxfamblogs.org/bangladesh | https://twitter.com/oxfaminBD



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