A Mute SAARC ?
Earthqwake and Tsunami in 2004 together claimed 2 millions and 30 thousands lives in 14 countries including Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. In response, SAARC nations established a centre for SAARC Disaster Management to situate in New Delhi. It prepared a roadmap in different aspects related to disaster management. It also identified a project to exchange good practices on disaster management as well as risk assessment and capacity development etc. SAARC Disaster Knowledge Network was also established. Moreover, an agreement on Natural Disaster Management was signed after discussion among Disaster Management Officers and Foreign Ministries of the SAARC member countries.
But SAARC remains officially mute even when deaths due to Nepal’s megaearthquake reached approximately 9 thousands including the destruction of millions of wealth. However, a separate presence of SAARC member nations in contribution towards relief is worth mentioning. Within a few hours, India sent a relief team and Bhutani Prime Minister himself landed Nepal and handed over its financial aid to the Government of Nepal. Bangladesh and Pakistan also sent relief materials to Nepal. Many more international agencies and countries too supported Nepal in their own capacities. Individuals from every corners of the globe contributed spontaneously on their own. But, it is strange to see the SAARC, of which Nepal is not just a member country but also the chair of the organization since the recent SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, not being spoken on the destructions and sufferings caused due to the earthquake.
It is an imperative for the SAARC nations to initiate the relief and rehabilitation on an institutional way in the time of such humanitarian crisis. However, SAARC seems to have bunked off in any of post quake actions until now. It is happening even when there is a separate structure within the SAARC just mandated for the disaster management.
As stated earlier, after the recent SAARC Summit in 2014, Nepal is chairing the SAARC and the Prime Minister of Nepal heads the institution. Since, Nepal itself is in crisis, a question may arises as to how could Prime Minister Sushil Koirala speak on behalf of SAARC for his own country. Prime Minister Koirala could have called upon all SAARC nations to be unified for the cause in order to support Nepal. However, no initiative has been taken towards it. Morover, SAARC Secretariat, which too located in and head by Nepal, could have played a crucial role in it.
The aim of the establishment of SAARC was to promote regional cooperation. The recent SAARC summit was decided to establish SAARC Environment and Disaster Management Centre. The member states welcomed this but the relevance of establishment is being minimised with current non concern of SAARC on the crisis. European Union (EU), a similar type of regional organisation like SAARC, seems more successful in dealing issues within the Europe. The EU initiates in solving any crisis faced by its member countries. Likewise, ASEAN by having an agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response in 2005 has been activating the mechanism to make a coordinated efforts on relief and rescue in time of crisis. In comparison to these regional organizations, SAARC seems less able to have any notable achievements in its 3 decades of establishment.
In an International Donor Conference held in Kathmandu after the quake in order to generate funds for Nepal’s reconstruction project, the participant agencies including Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB), EU, other donor agencies, India, China, and Japan open-heartedly commited to contribute for the task. However, it is unpleasant to not have any activities by SAARC, which Nepal itself chairs, when regional organization of the world are actively participating on the issue.
A separate meeting with SAARC nations could have been made during the conference. But this didnot happen. If such practices continues, the relevance of SAARC itself can be questioned in the days to come.
Amrit Dahal is a Journalist and Writer (Kantipur Publications) from Nepal
The Article is Translated by Manoj Dhakal, MA(Sociology ’14), SAU
(The original article in Nepali published on Kantipur National Daily is accessed from the http://www.ekantipur.com/np/2072/3/12/full-story/411614.html)