Poverty in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island country that has 21.7 million inhabitants. However, that number sharply increases throughout the months of December to March as tourists flock to the island to visit its alluring beaches and mountainous terrain. The island nation resembles a tropical paradise, but poverty in Sri Lanka remains a critical concern as the country is still recovering from the tumultuous 30-year civil war which occurred from 1983 until 2009. Over the past decade, Sri Lanka has focused on reconstructing its economy and restructuring the distribution of wealth. The nation has made significant improvements but many serious issues remain in regard to poverty and the reconstruction process. Here are five facts about poverty in Sri Lanka.

5 Facts About Poverty in Sri Lanka

  1. Economic Growth and Living Standards: The poverty rate of Sri Lanka (excluding the Northern and Eastern provinces) decreased from 22.7% in 2002 to 6.1% in 2013. Unfortunately, the nation’s living standards do not reflect the same improvement. In 2013, approximately 45% of the population survived on less than $5 per day. However, the Sri Lankan economy has grown at an average of 5.6% over the past 10 years. This significant growth rate is expanding the middle class, improving purchasing power and increasing the disposable income of Sri Lankan citizens. Consequently, experts expect that living standards in Sri Lanka will improve in the years to come.
  2. Rural Versus Urban Regions: Sri Lanka has a large rural sector which causes an unequal spatial distribution of wealth. In 2013, 75% of Sri Lanka’s total population and more than 85% of Sri Lanka’s poor population lived in rural areas. The country’s wealth largely concentrates in urban centers, limiting poor, rural citizens’ access to resources and establishing a correlated pattern of economic inequality. After the Sri Lankan Civil War ended in 2009, the nation began rebuilding its economy with a focus on manufacturing and important services. This focus encourages the expansion of an urban-based economy which will help to spread resources and balance the apparent economic inequality.
  3. The Agriculture Industry: Almost 30% of Sri Lanka’s workforce and about 50% of the employed poor work in the agriculture industry. The agriculture industry typically has lower wages and fewer opportunities to advance compared to jobs in other sectors. Therefore, it is difficult for poor Sri Lankans in the agriculture sector to increase their annual income and improve their social standing, further perpetuating the rural pockets of poverty in Sri Lanka. Urbanization helps to counteract this phenomenon as it enables rural inhabitants to experience the resources and opportunities that once concentrated in Sri Lanka’s crowded cities. This structural transformation provides a wider array of choices in terms of employment and leisure, and it encourages poorer citizens working in the agriculture sector to engage in more productive industries which resultantly challenges the cycle of poverty in Sri Lanka.
  4. Key Development Indicators: Other socioeconomic issues, such as malnutrition and climate change, directly affect Sri Lanka’s poverty rate. According to the World Food Programme, 22% of Sri Lankans are undernourished or malnourished which signifies that many citizens lack necessary vitamins and minerals. Climate change also negatively affects the poverty rate in Sri Lanka as severe floods and droughts threaten food security and limit access to clean water. To combat these issues, the Sri Lankan government partnered with the World Food Programme to provide “technical and policy support to build national capacity to ensure access to food, end malnutrition and improve the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers.” Additionally, the Sri Lankan government has made significant advances in reducing maternal mortality and increasing access to primary education. The percentage of skilled practitioners attending births in Sri Lanka has dramatically increased in recent years. Resultantly, Sri Lanka’s maternal mortality ratio has decreased from 500-600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 60 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020. Education is a primary focus for the Sri Lankan government, as education is one of the most salient factors in alleviating poverty. Today, 99.08% of children ages 5 to 14 years old attend primary school in Sri Lanka.
  5. COVID-19: Predictions determine that Sri Lanka will experience a 25% (or $750 million) decrease in exports due to COVID-19. The global pandemic has dramatically reduced Sri Lanka’s export earnings, consumption and investment. As a result, top export industries (apparel, tea and rubber) have had to deliver devastating job and earning cuts. Social distancing requirements continue to restrict job performance and tourism, thereby threatening the stability of the economy and the national poverty rate. While the country braces for the economic impact, the government has focused on efforts to contain the spread of the virus. In April 2020, the Sri Lankan government issued a 24-hour curfew, closed all international flights and increased coronavirus testing to slow its spread. These measures made identifying cases of coronavirus quicker and easier which prevented thousands of more deaths from occurring, and which limited the damage to the national economy and poverty rate.

While these five facts about poverty in Sri Lanka show the country’s challenges, it has made significant strides to reduce its poverty rate. Through its continued work independently and with NGOs like the World Food Programme, the country should be able to continue alleviating its poverty rate.

Ashley Bond
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in Pakistan
Founded during the partition of India and located in South Asia, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world, with a population of more than 210 million. Cornerstones of Pakistani culture include incredible cuisine, iconic architecture and the popular game of cricket. However, like so many nations across the globe, Pakistani citizens are forced to confront the harsh reality of extreme poverty. Here are ten facts about poverty in Pakistan.

10 Facts About Poverty in Pakistan

  1. As of 2015, approximately 24% of Pakistani citizens lived below the national poverty line. This is more than twice the global percentage of people living in extreme poverty and amounts to more than 50 million people in Pakistan living in poverty.
  2. Nearly 4% of Pakistan lives below $1.90 a day. As a result, nearly 9 million Pakistani citizens live in extreme poverty. This puts them below the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) outlined in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. As of 2018, almost 7% of babies died before their fifth birthday. Life in poverty makes it extremely difficult to have access to proper housing, nutrition and medication.
  4. The adult illiteracy rate in Pakistan is around 35%. Unequal access to proper and requisite education is inseparable from the reality of poverty.
  5. Pakistan also faces a severe overpopulation problem. While the nation has the fifth-highest population in the world, it takes up less than a percent of this planet’s surface. Overpopulation and unequal access to education amplify problems caused by poverty.
  6. Pakistan has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.560. The nation ranks 152nd out of 189 countries and territories. In the last three decades, Pakistan’s HDI has increased by nearly 40%.
  7. Appproximately 38% of Pakistani citizens are living in multidimensional poverty. Another 13% are vulnerable to this status. From 2004 to 2015, the multidimensional poverty rate has dropped from 55% to its current rate at 38%.
  8. Poverty levels in Pakistan fluctuate throughout regions. In urban areas, poverty rates are around 9%, while in rural areas poverty rates rise all the way to 55%. This disparity can be seen among provinces in the Republic as well.
  9. About 25 million Pakistani families rely on wage workers. They have unfortunately become vulnerable due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister has said that the pandemic is harder to deal with in countries facing the challenges of poverty.
  10. The Pakistani government hopes to receive $5 billion in financial aid. This would come from outside sources and countries, along with the $1.3 billion they have already received from the IMF.

With continued efforts, poverty in Pakistan will hopefully decrease. The Citizens Foundation is one of many non-profits that have been working to improve the quality of life for underprivileged Pakistani citizens. In 25 years, the Citizens Foundation has created 1,652 schools, providing a proper education to over 266,000 children who would not have had it otherwise. These schools also combat gender inequality in Pakistan, as they have all-female faculty and a 50% student gender ratio.

However, there is still work to be done. In Pakistan, gender disparities compound the unjust realities of poverty. Poverty rates in rural areas are more than five times higher than those in urban areas. Yet, similar to global trends, the amount of people living in poverty in Pakistan has clearly been decreasing in recent years. This is in large part due to individuals and organizations dedicating themselves to the cause of ending poverty. These continued efforts will help fight and eventually end poverty in Pakistan, and in turn will make the Republic a more just and equal country for all those who call it home.

Ehran Hodes
Photo: Flickr

childrens health in Pakistan
Pakistan is a country that has had many years of strife regarding affordable and accessible health care, particularly for families. Many organizations seek to change this so that the country can improve the well-being of its children, the most vulnerable group. Below are seven facts about children’s health in Pakistan.

7 Facts About Children’s Health in Pakistan

  1. Immunizations: UNICEF has been supporting the Pakistani government in ensuring that children have access to routine immunizations. The Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in Pakistan works to provide vaccinations to children in both urban and rural communities. In 2018, 75 percent of infants received a third dose of the Diptheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, compared to only 59 percent in 2000. Similarly, in 2018, 67 percent of children received a second dose of the measles vaccine, compared to only 30 percent in 2009.
  2. Pneumonia: Pneumonia is the number one cause of death among children in the world as well as in Pakistan. About 91,000 Pakistani children die from pneumonia each year. However, in 2012, Pakistan was the first nation in South Asia to introduce a pneumonia vaccine to children. Though the vaccine is expensive, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative (GAVI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have begun to include this vaccine in the free immunization program for children.
  3. Child Health and Sanitation Week: Twice a year, Pakistan holds Child Health and Sanitation Week. UNICEF and the Government of Pakistan hold events and marches to raise awareness about children’s health. They provide free immunizations and deworming, and hold information sessions on breastfeeding and hydration. Children and families also learn about the importance of good hygiene and how to prevent certain diseases.
  4. Diarrhea: About 53,000 children die from diarrhea in Pakistan every year. Though diarrhea is another leading cause of death, UNICEF Pakistan supports the Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD). The GAPPD trains health care workers, researches causes of illness and provides supplies to help treat and prevent both conditions.
  5. Neonatal Deaths: The government of Pakistan Provides programs on EPI, family planning, maternal/neonatal and child health and primary health care and nutrition for women and children living in rural and remote areas of Pakistan. According to the National Institute of Health, these sorts of programs have the potential to prevent 20 percent of neonatal deaths, between 29 to 40 percent of deaths in children below the age of 5.
  6. Government Projects: The Government of Pakistan has initiated a wide variety of programs aimed specifically towards protecting the health of children and their mothers including the Maternal and Child Health Programme, National Program for Family Planning and Primary Health Care, National EPI Programme, Nutrition Project, Acute Respiratory Infections Control Project and the Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses Strategy. These projects are able to assist areas of Pakistan that need treatment and prevention supplies for various illnesses in children.
  7. HIV: UNICEF is assisting the Government of Pakistan in preventing HIV cases in children. Though the amount of pediatric HIV cases has increased in Pakistan throughout the last few years, the Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission has been researching ways to change this and strengthen the care that infected children receive. The initiative is also working to educate adolescents on HIV prevention.

Pakistan has struggled with providing its families with accessible and affordable health care. However, with many new initiatives, specifically with immunizations, its children will be able to thrive. As the Government of Pakistan has shown, children’s health in Pakistan will continue to be among its priorities.

Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Wikimedia

South Asian Food and Security Initiative
The South Asian Food and Security Initiative (SAFANSI) launched in 2010 to fight malnutrition in South Asia. The program has already had two full successful phases and is in the process of planning more. Since 2010, SAFANSI has contributed a great deal to several projects that help decrease malnutrition in South Asia. This article will outline how SAFANSI identified the problem and created 27 solutions. It will also express SAFANSI’s future plans.

Identifying the Problem

The South Asian Food and Security Initiative set out to combat the Asian Enigma, a problem for people in South Asian countries such as India, Nepal and Afghanistan who suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth at levels comparable to poorer countries. Food security is part of this problem. Despite the populace having the means to purchase food, it did not meet its nutritional needs. Furthermore, SAFANSI found that a major issue was that people did not know how to eat a healthy diet. This caused SAFASNI to identify the need for further innovations benefitting food security. These issues caused people from countries with comparatively low poverty rates to suffer from malnutrition.

Creating a Solution

In order to fix the discrepancy in the Asian Enigma, the South Asian Food and Security Initiative funded projects that fit its mission using money from the World Bank and foreign governments, including England and Australia. These projects range from sponsoring studies that investigate causes and solutions to communicating proper nutrition practices. In its 2018 report, SAFANSI listed some significant accomplishments, including sponsorship of 17 published peer-reviewed studies on food security on a household level (cited 75 times).

SAFANSI had also informed seven policies for countries including Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal. These policies support community-based nutrition programs that empower communities to take control of their own nutritional habits. Appealing to the populace, the organization has reached almost 5 million people through news articles and social media posts with information on food education. Another project provided $16 million in aid to pregnant mothers, children under 2 years of age and rural farmers. SAFANSI conducted these innovative projects with an initial investment of only $4.2 million. To continue to address the need for food products with increased nutritional value, SAFANSI funded a project in India to fortify milk with vitamins that provided milk to over 55 million people. These 27 projects that SAFANSI funded over the last three years are by no means, the extent of its efforts.

Continued Efforts

Despite the tremendous efforts over the past nine years, SAFANSI intends to do more. Since SAFANSI’s second phase is coming to an end, planning for a third phase will commence soon. In this third phase, SAFANSI aims to further investigate methods for stunting and waste, as well as beginning to work more with the private sector on projects. SAFANSI wishes to build on its success by continuing to bring together experts to create innovative ideas regarding clean water, agriculture, sanitation and public administration.

Josh Fritzjunker
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Hygiene in South Asia
Globally, access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is on the rise, especially in South Asia. According to UNICEF, in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, the percentage of people practicing open defecation—a leading cause of child malnutrition, disease and death—fell from 65 percent to 34 percent. While these WASH initiatives have seen success, they often neglect one important aspect of hygiene that pertains to women, menstruation. The ability for women to menstruate hygienically and with dignity is vital to their empowerment. Here are five facts about menstrual hygiene in South Asia.

5 Facts About Menstrual Hygiene in South Asia

  1. There is a culture of silence around menstruation; discussing it is often treated as taboo. Females on their periods are often excluded from society because they are seen as impure. One study in Nepal found that 89 percent of respondents practiced some form of exclusion or restriction during a menstrual cycle. However, organizations such as WaterAid are working to break the silence through female-led self-help groups. When just a few women came forward to speak, it inspired others to share their experiences and start breaking the taboo.
  2. Many girls do not understand their periods. Because the topic is taboo, it is often ignored in schools. As such, 10 percent of girls in India thought menstruation was a disease, and 66 percent of girls in South Asia do not know anything about periods before their first menstruation. A study of 160 girls in West Bengal found that, though 67.5 percent knew what a period was before their first, 97.5 percent did not know where menstrual bleeding comes from. While schools often neglect to teach about reproductive health, this is beginning to change. UK Aid is creating audiobooks for girls dispelling myths and teaching them about their periods, and non-government organizations are creating extracurricular activities that teach about menstrual hygiene in South Asia.
  3. Menstrual hygiene in South Asia is vital for keeping girls in schools. According to WaterAid, a study done in South India found half the girls in school were pulled out at the time of their first period, often to be married. The girls who stayed in school beyond their first period reported poor performance due to anxiety that the boys in the class would find out they were menstruating.
  4. Access to feminine hygiene products is expensive. According to WaterAid, in a West Bengal study, only 11.25 percent of girls used disposable feminine hygiene products. The most common obstacles to obtaining them are a lack of awareness about them, the high cost, the lack of availability and the need for disposal facilities. Focus group discussions indicated that girls would prefer sanitary pads because they were more comfortable, discreet, and easier to use and carry. WaterAid is working to make low cost disposable sanitary pads as well as facilities to dispose of them. In the meantime, most women and girls rely on reusable cloth, which comes with its own problems.
  5. Maintaining menstrual hygiene in South Asia requires improved sanitation. One of the biggest obstacles to menstrual health is a lack of sanitation practices and infrastructure. Most South Asian women and girls rely on reusable cloth. To sanitize them though, they need to wash them in clean water and dry them in sunlight. However, cultural taboos around menstruation often pressure women and girls to try to dry them in dark places, potentially leading to infection. For those who might have access to disposable sanitary pads, they often lack the facilities to get rid of them. This is especially a problem for girls in schools. However, WaterAid and its partners are working on implementing WASH facilities that are lockable and gender-separated, with at least one toilet or washroom with an opening leading to an incinerator or dustbin for feminine hygiene products.

While countries in the region are making great strides in sanitation, there is still much to be done to improve menstrual hygiene in South Asia. It is vital they do so because the ability for women and girls to menstruate with privacy and dignity empowers them to pursue work, education and gives them the opportunity to have a voice in society.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

The Development of South Asia Through Integration
South Asia is considered one of the least integrated regions across the globe; yet in recent years, international organizations, such as the World Bank, are implementing strategies to unite the nations economically.

Understanding South Asia

South Asian countries consist of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. South Asia is considered one of the fasting growing regions within the world today, and the region is home to two very fast-growing economies.

According to the World Bank, the development of South Asia is projected to increase from 6.9 percent to 7.1 percent in the upcoming year.

Bhutan, alone, is currently the fastest growing economy — the nation reports that it will grow at a staggering annual rate of 11.1 percent. India is also one of the fastest growing economies as well, with a growth rate at about 7.73 percent from 2017-2019.

The World Bank emphasizes the importance of cooperation and trade among South Asia, and they believe that the growth rate is predicted to increase if these nations work together in harmony.

Path to Progress

Regional, economic entwinement is the way in which development of South Asia progresses — the World Bank recognizes such measures and has initiated plans in order to unify this region.

As one of the first steps, the World Bank brought approximately 100 students together at the Fourteenth South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM). Economic undergraduates discussed their academic and experimental research about regional integration and its advantages.

They also explained how to attain economic prosperity through cooperation and trade, and students developed long-lasting friendships that should unequivocally encourage future relations among South Asian countries.

‘One South Asia’

Not only has the World Bank encouraged millennials, but they also have a twofold program called “One South Asia,” which directly forms connections among South Asian countries. The first objective is technical assistance, which will offer economic opportunities to strengthen trade connections. The second goal is to increase conversation about regional integration and local investments.

They are also trying to work with both the public and private sectors. The development of South Asia begins at the engagement of all levels of the economy.

There has been many obstacles to achieve “One South Asia,” yet the World Bank is determined to merge these nations together so they are successful economically, politically and socially. The development of South Asia as a whole will be difficult, yet it is possible and can occur if the region continues on this trajectory.

The World Bank’s Influence and Steps to Development

The World Bank has many projects within South Asian nations — particularly Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan — to improve their economies individually. Most of these initiatives create jobs and opportunities for their citizens.

Regional integration is also crucial to the development of South Asia. The only way to reach prosperity is for countries to form a union — if South Asia mirrored the European Union, the opportunities for growth within each nation are endless.

This is a challenge, yet if international organizations, governments and the citizens of South Asia work tirelessly, they will surely reach their Sustainable Development Goals.

– Diana Hallisey
Photo: Flickr

Google and the H&M Foundation Support Flood Relief in South AsiaWhile the United States remains observant and sympathetic to the troubles in Texas and Florida, on the other side of the globe 24 million people have been affected and over 1,200 killed by a record monsoon that hit areas of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The natural disaster brought the worst floods the area has seen in years.

Google and their employees have committed to a $1 million pledge to Goonj and Save the Children to support flood relief efforts in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. They hope to support flood relief for 75,000 families across nine affected states throughout rural India. Google’s flood relief efforts include giving families kits with food, mats, blankets and hygiene items. Their goal is to help restore the communities’ roads, bridges and schools.

The Swedish clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz, widely known as H&M, has donated $200,000 to support flood relief in south Asia through the Save the Children Organization. The H&M Foundation works to enhance living circumstances by investing in people, communities and innovative ideas. While the H&M Foundation supports this transformation through access to education, water and equality, they also offer emergency relief from partnerships through global organizations.

Save the Children has responded in all three countries, as they believe children are often the most vulnerable in crises like these. Save the Children also provides child-friendly environments where children can acquire access to educational resources and free time, allowing liberation from devastation.

Resources like the U.S. federal disaster response system do not exist to provide flood relief in south Asia. This makes the work of companies like Google and H&M extremely valuable to affected communities, both now and in the future.

Jalil Perry

Photo: Flickr

Maldives Poverty RateMaldives is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. While the country was a life expectancy of 77 years and a literacy rate of 98.4 percent, the Maldives poverty rate still allows room for growth.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported that by 2016, only two percent of the nation’s citizens lived under the international poverty line. Similarly, Asian Development Bank reported 2015 that 15 percent of people in Maldives lived under the national poverty line.

Though this seems a bit higher, other South Asian countries show even greater numbers for the same statistic. For example, India’s is almost 22 percent, Nepal’s is over 25 percent. Bangladesh ranks higher than all of them, coming up at over 31 percent.Bhutan and Sri Lanka fall below Maldives—at 12 and 6.7 percent, respectively.

When looking at the death of infants in Maldives, 2015 data indicated that seven out of 1,000 babies die in live births. This country ranks the lowest when put side-by-side with Sri Lanka (8), Bhutan (27), Nepal (29), Bangladesh (31) and India (38).

When looking at 2012 data on the percentage of “employed population below $1.90 purchasing power parity a day,” Maldives settles in at 6.6 percent. This means that it still ranks below Bangladesh (over 73 percent), India (almost 18 percent) and Nepal (over 12 percent).

Similar to the statistic regarding the national poverty line, only Bhutan and Sri Lanka fall below Maldives in the list of six nations—both resting at slightly over four percent.

The Maldives tout an unemployment rate slightly below 12 percent, a GDP per capita at about $11,282 and tourist activities accounting for a quarter of its GDP.

However, it is important to note that a variety of issues still impact the nation.

The UNDP points out a lack of opportunities for female autonomy, a need for greater answerability within governing bodies and the dangers of environmental degradation.

Rural Poverty Portal also touches on problems the nation struggles with. It indicates that much of the country’s poverty exists on islands where fishing and farming predominate. Focusing on the less urbanized areas, it highlights that insufficient supply of natural resources, low credit and poor farming techniques all contribute.

Still, in relation to many of its counterparts, the Maldives poverty rate suggests much promise for the South Asian country. Although the nation must make improvements in a variety of aspects beyond those listed, its current status reflects its well-being.

Maleeha Syed

Photo: Flickr

Education in Singapore
For the first time in history, Singapore has been named as having the top two universities in all of Asia. This includes the National University of Singapore, which rose 14 spots in the World University Rankings since 2012. The method for success goes back many generations, as education in Singapore instructs not only academics but teaches respect for authority and an understanding of the gravity of education.

Singapore, among other Asian nations, neared the top of the international league tables for over a decade. These tables measure child proficiency in reading, math, and science, with high scores showing the success of Singapore’s education system. Singapore’s education method is to approach classrooms with a highly-scripted way of teaching, making teachers ‘teach to the test’ instead of adapting to children’s different needs.

Students in Singapore ‘learn how to learn,’ a generally ineffective method that has been unusually successful in Singapore. Instead of checking the students’ level of understanding, teachers are instructed to check whether students can get the correct answer. The prescribed national curriculum sets the standard by which students learn, with little flexibility or deviation.

Singapore’s universities have been able to compete in the global economy by pouring financial support into research and strategically positioning each university. From the start, students are instructed on their expectations through primary, secondary and post-secondary education.

However, the first lessons students learn are how to know and how to love their country. By strengthening the pupils’ appreciation for their country, they then also appreciate the meaning of receiving an education.

Students in Singapore have been instructed since birth to follow the national and cultural standards that reproduce the instructional regime. Teachers instruct with a type of ‘folk pedagogy’ that reinforces the nature of their instruction, such as ‘teaching is talking and learning is listening.’ However, in recent years these policies have relaxed to lessen student stress.

Despite their unorthodox success, Singapore is realizing that balance is just as important as educational prowess. Education in Singapore has changed to accommodate more stress-relieving activities, such as white-water rafting, since experts in Singapore’s education system now aim to give students a more well-rounded life.

The goal is to move students from being academic-based people to leading emotionally-healthy lives, a change that should positively impact Singapore’s education system. With a combination of previous methods and these new changes, Singapore’s high status in education in Asia and around the globe should remain consistent.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Pixabay

Society_India_Integration SAARC
The 42nd meeting of the standing committee of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) took place in Nepal in mid-March 2016. India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, called for greater cooperation among member nations to increase overall prosperity and decrease poverty rates.

According to The Times of India, Swaraj emphasized the importance of regional integration and cooperation for the benefit of all: “We continue to face significant challenges in delivering food security, health, nutrition and education to our peoples. All this goes to show that while we are doing well individually, we have not been able to unleash our collective strength effectively. We must think innovatively and find solutions so that we may harness our economic complementarities and ensure a conducive environment for rapid growth.”

The SAARC comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. As a region, these South Asian countries have more people living under the poverty line than anywhere else in the world.

Swaraj acknowledged this fact in her speech, saying, “We must recognize that we have common enemies in poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and environmental degradation. We will need to fight these challenges together since we have a shared history and a shared destiny. Let us reach for it together.”

The historic tension between India and Pakistan has been one of the toughest barriers to regional integration among SAARC countries. Even so, new developments suggest that the relationship between the two countries may be improving.

During the summit, Swaraj met with Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor, Sartaj Aziz, multiple times. Greater cooperation between India and Pakistan’s intelligence and criminal investigation agencies was a major topic of conversation between the two leaders.

In November 2016, the Indian Prime Minister will visit Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, for another SAARC summit. This visit could lead to an even greater relief of the tensions in India-Pakistan relations.

An article in The Indian Express asserts that the “SAARC countries have been held hostage by India-Pak tensions.” Thus, a stronger relationship between India and Pakistan would benefit the entire region.

India’s Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, has stated that only when India-Pakistan relations improve “will building a peaceful, secure and prosperous neighborhood yield rich dividends for all SAARC member states.”

Reducing regional poverty rates hinges upon greater economic integration among South Asian countries. Stronger India-Pakistan ties, along with increased cooperation in South Asia can help increase regional prosperity, secure peace and reduce poverty.

Clara Wang

Photo: Flickr