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
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
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
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
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.