SAARC solidarity against COVID-19
Leaders from South Asia came together on Sunday with a resolve to wage a collective fight against the coronavirus that has now become a global pandemic. In the first-ever video conference between the leaders of eight SAARC countries, they agreed to initiate joint efforts to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 by setting up a regional mechanism.
The heads of SAARC countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—underscored the need for initiating joint efforts to combat the deadly coronavirus to save their citizens. This much needed initiative came to fruition after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi floated the idea, which was quickly taken up by Nepal and the rest of the SAARC countries. PM Modi thus deserves appreciation from people as well as the governments of SAARC countries for initiating a collective measure against the pandemic.
COVID-19 has posed a serious threat to life, economy and health systems globally. Though it has been contained in China—thanks to timely response from the authorities—it has now spread to more than 140 countries, killed more than 6000 people and infected more than 160,000 people across the world, according to the World Health Organization’s recent update. The WHO has declared it a global pandemic and called for all nations to enhance preparedness to combat the threat. The South Asian countries, however, are still least affected compared to China, Italy, South Korea and Iran. But this alone does not help stave off the threat of pandemic.
South Asia, therefore, had to stand united and do something about it. The solidarity among SAARC nations is important for other reasons as well. Countries and people of South Asia have many things in common.
Their cuisine, cultural and social behaviors match in most cases and the countries and people are deeply interconnected in terms of mobility and trade. Common measures for these countries can be more effective. Besides, SAARC leaders standing together on this issue can also be expected to revive the SAARC process that has stuck for more than three years now. We hope that the leaders have realized how important it is to keep this common forum—SAARC—up and functioning.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed to establish a COVID-19 Emergency Fund and announced to allocate US$10 million on behalf of the Indian government for it. Other member states, including Nepal, have endorsed the proposal and pledged to make financial contributions toward the fund. This is an excellent start. Now that leaders of South Asia have come together against this common threat, they should be working together on several fronts in the days to come.
When the threat of pandemic escalates in South Asia, there is surely going to be shortage of food and medicines in these countries. They need to collaborate to ensure that supplies of fuel, food and medicines remain smooth, while also tightening screening at the border points. India is the storehouse of vital medicines and food.
Countries need to collaborate to help each other with whatever they can contribute. South Asian leaders have given the message that they are together against this crisis. If they act with the same spirit in the days to come too, it won’t be difficult for them to keep people of this region safe from the deadly pandemic.