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Poverty Alleviation a key SAARC goal

Recognising the imperative to address poverty related issues and to suggest strategies and measures to alleviate poverty in the region, the SAARC Leaders at their Sixth Summit (Colombo, 1991) established an Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA).

The Commission, while reporting to the Seventh Summit (Dhaka, 1993), provided a conceptual framework for poverty alleviation through social mobilization and empowerment in South Asia.

The Seventh Summit welcomed the report and expressed its commitment to eradicate poverty from South Asia through an agenda of action which would, inter-alia, include a strategy of social mobilization, and a policy of decentralized agricultural development, village reawakening, small-scale labour-intensive industrialization and human development.

The Summit also stressed that within the conceptual approach of “Dhal-Bhaat”-the basic needs approach, the right to work and primary education should receive priority.

The Eighth SAARC Summit (New Delhi, 1995) approved the establishment of a Three-tier mechanism for dealing with poverty issues. The first-tier comprised the Secretaries to the governments concerned with poverty eradication and social development in SAARC countries.

The second-tier comprised Finance/Planning Secretaries and the thid-tier comprised Finance/Planning Ministers. By January 1996, the first round of meetings under the three-tier mechanism was completed.

The Tenth SAARC Summit in Colombo (July 1998) noted that human resources development is a key element in any poverty eradication programme. The Summit thus directed the SAARC Human Resources Development Centre in Islamabad to look into the possibility of its contributing to the strengthening of the human resources development component of regional poverty eradication programmes.

At the Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, 4-6 January 2002), the Leaders felt that the widespread and debilitating poverty continued to be the most formidable developmental challenge for the region. The Leaders made a review of the SAARC activities aimed at poverty alleviation and decided to reinvigorate them in the context of the regional and global commitments to poverty reduction.

They expressed their firm resolve to combat the problem of poverty with a new sense of urgency by actively promoting the synergetic partnership among national governments, international agencies, the private sector and the civil society.

They agreed to take immediate steps for the effective implementation of the programs for social mobilization and decentralization, and for strengthening institution building and support mechanisms to ensure participation of the poor, both as stake-holders and beneficiaries, in governance and the development process.

The Summit reconstituted the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA) with Nepal as its Convenor and Bangladesh as Co-Convenor.

It decided that a meeting at the ministerial level on poverty alleviation should undertake a comprehensive review of existing poverty alleviation policies and programmes by activating exiting three-tier mechanism for poverty alleviation.

Accordingly, the SAARC Finance/Planning Ministers, in their Meeting held in Islamabad on 8-9 April 2002 prepared a “Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation”. Some of the key points and emphasis in the Plan of Action are as follows:

Good governance through improved public sector management and delivery system, particularly in areas that affects the poor; Sound macro-economic management policies through focus on quality and pattern of growth; Enriching the concept of Human Development through adoption of Bhutan’s philosophy of promoting ‘Gross National Happiness’ through equitable socio-economic development; Combating poverty through promotion of employment in small and medium enterprises, micro-finance institutions and tourism sector; Promoting multi-culturalism, pluralism and mass education through gender equality and empowerment of women, vocational and technical training and skill up-gradation; Expanding social safety nets through schemes targeting the poorest and the most vulnerable by introducing old age benefits, disability benefits and benefits on the death of the primary bread earner; Investing in human capital and social sectors through encouragement of private sector investment in education and health; Exercising prudence in allocating public resources and strengthen domestic resource mobilization through prioritisation of public expenditure and increased domestic revenue to reduce the dependence on ODA; Empowering local communities and governments through decentralization, financial devolution and community participation; Strengthening poverty alleviation programmes through building up the physical assets of the poor, including grant assistance to the indigent for purchase of small capital assets; Expanding intra-regional trade and capital flows and faster movement towards SAFTA; Learning from each other’s experience through exchange of best practices; Working with developed countries to increase ODA to 0.7 % of GNP through formulating common positions at relevant international fora; and Seeking increased market access in developed countries through joint positions to address the biases against developing countries in WTO related issues.

The Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, January 2004) endorsed the Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation. The Leaders reiterated their commitment to undertake effective and sustained poverty reduction programmes through pro-poor growth strategies and other policy interventions with specific sectoral targets.

Subsequently, the Council of Ministers at its Twenty-third Session held in Kathmandu in August 2002 recognized poverty alleviation as the over-arching goal of SAARC for which a concerted, sustained and collective action was required. At the Twelfth Summit, the Leaders declared poverty alleviation as the overarching goal of all SAARC activities.

At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit, the Leaders declared the decade of 2006-2015 as the SAARC Decade of Poverty Alleviation. They further decided that during the Decade, endeavours, both at the national and regional levels, would continue to be made with a sense of commitment and urgency to free South Asia from poverty.

Two-tier mechanism At the Thirteenth Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005), the Heads of State / Government underlined the need for an exclusive forum for focused and comprehensive examination of poverty related issues. They decided to replace the three-tier mechanism on poverty alleviation by a two-tier one, comprising the Ministers and the Secretaries dealing with poverty alleviation at the national level.

Pursuant to the decision, and at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka, the First Meeting of Secretaries dealing with the Poverty Alleviation was held in Colombo on 6-7 August 2006. This was followed by a Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation on 8 August 2006.

The Meetings took note of the important regional initiatives and directives of the Leaders at their recent Summits. The Ministerial Meeting agreed that the Member States would incorporate the SDG targets and goals in their respective planning process. It was further agreed to initiate national level consultations to obtain views of the stakeholders and practitioners to formulate specific targets and indicators for the SDGs.

The Meetings agreed activities and programmes to be undertaken for effective observance of the SAARC Decade on Poverty Alleviation (2006-2015). It also agreed to develop pilot project(s), at least one per country, in the area of poverty alleviation. Identification and implementation of regional and sub-regional projects on poverty alleviation would remain a high priority during the Decade.

SAARC Decade on Poverty Alleviation (2006-2015)

The First Meeting of the Secretaries dealing with Poverty Alleviation (Colombo, 6-7 August 2006) underscored the need for policy prioritization for better utilization of the budgetary resources so as to have the desired impact on poverty reduction in this important decade.

It agreed that sustained efforts were needed, inter alia, to: (a) deepen pro-poor orientation of growth process; (b) enhance investment in human capital; (c) increase investment in infrastructure; and (d) improve service delivery mechanism. It further recommended that the Member States would try to ensure higher public sector investment in education, health, agriculture and rural development in terms of GDP. Resource mobilization of achieving SDGs would remain a high priority. The Meeting agreed that policy attention should be given to better involve local governments in the poverty alleviation projects.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas
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LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka

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