An action-oriented SAARC
The 15th SAARC
Summit of Heads of State and Government in South Asia starting
in Colombo today marks a significant milestone for the region.
The Summit is being held at a critical juncture for the whole
of South Asia, which, along with other developing countries is
facing myriad challenges.
It is being held under an appropriate theme: Partnership for
the Growth of Our People.
The theme is apt when considering that South Asia is one of
the most populous regions in the world, with around 25 per cent
of the global population. It is also among the poorest.
Thus poverty alleviation has become one of the key challenges
facing South Asia and the eight leaders are expected to dwell on
this issue. In this instance, the eight-nation SAARC bloc is
aligned with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
It is therefore appropriate that this Summit will focus on
food security as one of the main items on the agenda. The entire
world is facing a food crisis of unprecedented proportions but
the Third World has been the hardest hit.
The recent rice crisis seems to have ended at least for the
moment yet prices of many commodities still remain high,
affecting the poor. The proposal to set up a SAARC Food Bank is
Many argue that development could be a long term answer for
poverty and hunger. The equitable distribution of resources is a
Thus the proposed SAARC Development Fund, due to be taken up
at the Summit, will be a major boon for South Asian countries
which will be able to help each other without necessarily
looking for Western aid which often comes with various strings
The Fund is starting with a modest amount by international
aid standards, but it is expected to grow in the coming years.
The Colombo Summit will also be remembered for taking firm
action against terrorism, which affects almost all countries in
the region. India is just emerging from a spate of bomb blasts
in a couple of cities.
In fact, five South Asian countries figure prominently in a
worldwide ‘terror list’ released yesterday. The Colombo Summit
will consider a regional framework for tackling terrorism, a
The energy and water crises, two other issues facing the
region, will also be taken up at the Summit. The unprecedented
rise in world oil process has heavily impacted South Asian
countries, most of which are net oil importers.
South Asia must evolve a joint mechanism to research and
develop viable alternative and renewable sources of energy even
as they search for oil and other fossil fuels. It is also
pertinent to note that SAARC will work on improving public
transport, which is one way of luring private motorists to give
up their cars.
South Asia cannot ignore another phenomenon gripping the
world: Climate change. South Asia may not be contributing
heavily, but climate change and global warming are already
having a telling effect on the region including unexpected
rainfall and droughts and rising sea and temperature levels.
South Asia must collectively urge industrialised nations to cut
their emissions while doing their bit to save the planet.
As this year’s theme implies, South Asia must not forget the
people. SAARC is still a long way off from being an EU-like
borderless region which it must aspire to become. Entirely
visa-free travel is still not possible within SAARC and even if
that were to become a possibility, there are border arrangements
that hinder such travel. In the long run, SAARC should strive to
resolve these issues.
In the meantime, it must encourage cheaper intra-region
travel by air and sea. For example, the commencement of flights
to Sri Lanka by a Bangladeshi carrier will strengthen transport
links in South Asia. The proposed rail link that will eventually
link Colombo with Shanghai should also be given priority.
This Summit will give the people of South Asia an opportunity
to hear their leaders’ views on these and other issues
concerning the region. They are waiting anxiously to see the
progress SAARC is making towards forging a common South Asian
Sri Lanka, which will hold the SAARC Chair for the coming
year, is ideally positioned to make a strong start in this
direction. As the leaders have promised, SAARC should become an
action-oriented entity that strives for prosperity and peace in
South Asia with each passing year.