Published Date: May 6, 2020
Academicians across South Asia to enhance regional cooperation in the Post Covid-19 World
Knowledge sharing and learning each other’s best practices to deal with global pandemics like COVID-19 would be significantly important for the South Asian countries in the future. The platform of SAARC, despite all the challenges, could be used effectively at least by applying a sectoral approach, especially in the areas of health, food security, social sector development and climate change in the region.
The experts from South Asia and Pacific region said this while sharing views with the audience at an online policy dialogue titled: ‘COVID-19 and regional cooperation in South Asia’ organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Tuesday. Experts from South Asia and Pacific region, including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and Australia participated in the dialogue.
Dr. Zahid Shahab Ahmed, Research Fellow, Deakin University, Australia, said that COVID-19 has provided us with the opportunity to revive regional cooperation between the SAARC countries. He said that the priorities need to be changed and the post-COVID-19 cooperation could be more focused on food supply chain, livelihood and vaccination. The idea of SAARC Virtual Summit needs to be worked upon to revive cooperation on such urgent matters.
Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, SDPI Executive Director, while highlighting different aspects of the SAARC functioning, said that the pandemic signifies the importance of changing the mindset as the insecurities that people in the region face today are beyond the physical security. He said that the insecurities appeared as a result of the pandemic, climate change and food chain could only be responded by working together.
“How to keep our food chain intact and creating a balance between saving the lives and ensuring livelihoods are some of the critical questions to ponder over in the post pandemic world,” Dr Suleri observed. He further said that the critical learning on the immunity level, the specific strategies opted by the countries such as the lockdown and the best practices should be shared mutually whereas joint medical investigation, people-to-people contact and virtual platforms of sharing and learning need to be strengthened.
“SAARC is an organization whose presence may not seem to create a positive difference, however, its absence would create a much bigger negative effect”, added Dr. Suleri. Dr. Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, Dhaka University, Bangladesh, said that South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. The coronavirus has exposed our development models that need to be made people-centric now, he added. He stressed upon Indian government that being the largest economy of the region, it should accommodate its neighbours during the time of crisis.
Prof. Dr. Shaheen Akhtar, National Defence University, Islamabad, said that it’s time to establish sustainable peace in the region and to take the confidence-building measures to help people in distress in the conflict areas. She said in addition to challenges posed by COVID-19, the issues related to food security and climate change should also be the focus of collaborative efforts in the region.
Dr. Niranjan Sahoo, Senior Research Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, India, was of the view that the SAARC countries should be looking forward to revive this platform, establish peace and respond to shared challenges through enhanced cooperation. He said SAARC provides us a number of forums that need to be revived, especially to enhance cooperation in healthcare sector.
Dr. Anton Piyarathne, The Open University of Sri Lanka, said that the areas for short-term cooperation between the South Asian countries such as dealing with the pandemic and long-term cooperation should be assessed and mapped out to strengthen a base for the regional cooperation.
Prof. Siri Hettige, Colombo University, Sri Lanka, was of view that setting the realistic goals for the regional cooperation would be more important in the present context. He said that the civil society has to play role in all the regional countries to influence public policy. He said that reviving SAARC in post Covid-19 world would be important and it could be started by sharing knowledge, learning and best practices on the dealing the global pandemic.
Dr. Prakash Bhattari, President of Center for Social Change, Nepal, said that the areas of collaboration and cooperation between the SAARC countries at the moment could be identified by employing sectoral approach. Therefore, until reaching at a broader cooperation in the region, we may get benefited from each other in areas such as health, education and social sector, he added.
Safiullah Taye, PhD candidate, Deakin University, Australia, also shared his views with the audience and highlighted how Afghanistan is coping with the pandemic amidst domestic political rivalry and physical insecurity.