SAARC invisible as Nepal struggles in post-quake situation

Kathmandu, Nepal - 20th May 2015

Published on 19th May, 2015

KATHMANDU, May 19: Nepal not only hosts its secretariat but is also the current chair of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). This regional body of eight South Asian nations has various regional centers, including the SAARC Disaster Management Center (SDMC), which could play an important role in the aftermath of the great earthquake in Nepal.

But nearly a month since the massive earthquake hit on April 25 and again on May 12, the SAARC as a regional body of South Asian nations is nowhere in the scene. "It is sad that SAARC disaster response mechanism could not be activated as an agreement regarding this has yet to be ratified by one member state though the regional agreement was signed in 2011," argued former foreign secretary Madhu Raman Acharya.
A new member Afghanistan that joined SAARC during the 14th SAARC Summit held in New Delhi in 2007 is yet to ratify the SAARC disaster response mechanism. Nepal assumed the chair of this regional body after successfully hosting the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November, 2014.

Acharya said the SAARC regional mechanism upon the request of affected country's government could play an important role in responding to a disaster of this scale and magnitude. "It would have been lot easier for Nepal to have SAARC mechanism activated as a collective regional response rather than having to handle sensitive big power military presence without a bilateral agreement to this effect," he further said.

Various regional and multilateral organizations, including European Union, Asian Development Bank and Word Bank are already involved in providing immediate support to Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Executive Director of Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) Dr Nischal Nath Pandey said the failure of SAARC to respond even in this time of great national tragedy of one of its member states underscores the need for restructuring SAARC as a whole. "All the institutional mechanisms within the SAARC are weak," he said while arguing that SAARC Disaster Management Center, SAARC Food Bank and SAARC Development Fund could have done their bit to respond to the post-quake situation in Nepal.

Although rescue and relief support has come to Nepal from all SAARC member states, except Afghanistan, none of them have come through the SAARC mechanism. "If everything done so far has been on a bilateral level, what then is the relevance of SAARC as a regional mechanism?" questioned Dr Pandey.

Dr Pandey maintained that SAARC Food Bank could provide Nepal with necessary food items and SAARC Development Fund could release a certain amount of money to the Prime Minister Disaster Relief Fund to help Nepal recover. While SAARC Food Bank has 253,000 tons of reserved food in its stock, the SAARC Development Fund has approximately US$ 7.0 million at its disposal.

As the SAARC region is considered highly vulnerable to various kinds of natural calamities, including earthquake, typhoon, flood and landslide, a separate center called SAARC Disaster Management Center was set up within SAARC. But the role of SAARC after the massive earthquake in Gujarat, India in 2001, Kashmir region of Pakistan in 2005 and other major natural calamities in the region has been nothing more than that of a mute spectator.

Observers say failure of SAARC to respond in such critical situations has put in question the very relevance of SAARC. "SAARC already has earned an impression that it is an aircraft that does not fly. Let's hope, SAARC leaders will soon put requisite efforts toward changing this impression," argued Prof Jayraj Acharya, a seasoned diplomat