Civil society activists from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Afghanistan gathered in Kathmandu for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication (Saape) had one common worry: the flood destruction in Pakistan.
And they were concerned that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) and governments of their respective countries were not doing enough to help Pakistan's flood victims.
A small delegation even approached the Saarc Secretariat in Kathmandu to discuss this, but the Saarc General Secretary was abroad on an official visit. The Secretariat's Director, a Pakistani, received the delegation of representatives from Nepal, Pakistan and India. He heard them out patiently, but expressed his inability to do much as the Saarc Secretariat, he said, has no mandate beyond coordinating among the member countries -- only the Chair, or a member country, can make decisions regarding help to any country.
When asked about the Saarc Food Bank and Saarc Disaster Management Centre, he explained that the Food Bank can be activated only when a country requests it, whereas the Centre is officially established. He promised to convey the delegation's concerns to Saarc General Secretary.
During the Saape AGM held at Nagarkot near Kathmandu (Sept 4-6), Pakistani floods and heavy damage to Pakistan's economy remained the central point of deliberations. At the end of the three-day meeting, the 30-member AGM in its declaration expressed disappointment with the South Asian governments and SAARC as a body for their failure to develop a common regional disaster management policy and a mitigation plan.
They called for "the immediate adoption of a common plan and the establishment of a 'Task Force' to handle disasters in the future arising from climate change and global warming."
This is also a unique opportunity for South Asian countries to express their solidarity in terms of aid and political solidarity with the beleaguered Pakistan, and develop a common disaster management mechanism in line with the relevant SAARC charter, the declaration added.
At a press conference in Kathmandu later, the delegates urged their respective governments to establish a disaster relief fund to help the flood-hit Pakistani people. They termed as "disappointing" the response of South Asian countries towards Pakistan's flood disaster and demanded that Saarc activate its mechanisms like Saarc Food Bank and Saarc Disaster Management Centre.
They said that the South Asian nations should share their surplus food stocks with Pakistanis who are now facing food insecurity due to floods.
Saape Coordinator Arjun Karki said that South Asian countries need to build a mechanism that allowed quick responses in case of natural disasters and calamities.
Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) briefing the Nepali media about Pakistan's flood situation said that according to official data over 2000 people have died since the flooding began in July from Khyber Pukhtukhwa province. Out of a total of 124 districts, 79 have been affected by the floods. These include 24 districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 19 in Sindh, 12 in Punjab, 10 in Balochistan and seven each in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. More than 20 million people across the country have been affected.
He said that Government of Pakistan estimates economic losses inflicted by the floods at $43 billion, with about 20 million people affected, including 7.5 million displaced.
United Nations agencies and Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) estimate that crops over 1.38 million acres have been washed away and 1.2 million homes destroyed. The agriculture sector is likely to face the adverse effects for another year, posing a serious threat of food insecurity. The destruction to public infrastructure is enormous. As many as 517 out of 968 health facilities have been damaged, and over 10,600 schools destroyed.
While appreciating the goodwill gestures and aid offered by the Indian, Nepali, Afghan, Maldives and Bangladesh governments, he regretted the delayed response from Pakistan government and its reluctance to accept the aid directly from India. Indian civil society had also offered to send medical teams and medicines to flood-hit areas, but Pakistan government has not yet responded positively, he added.
Babu Mathew a senior professor and trade union activist from India said the foreign policies and security issues should not come in the way of providing help to Pakistan at this difficult time. He deplored that India has provided a very small amount to Pakistan in aid, even less than the expenditures incurred for the construction of a small road for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
Regarding the issue of sharing surplus food stocks, he pointed out that the Indian Supreme Court had recently asked the government to distribute free of cost among the poor, surplus wheat which would otherwise rot in the government storage houses.
Ms. Nimalka Fernando from Sri Lanka said women and children are the most vulnerable segments of society and suffer more during such calamities. They need special attention in relief efforts to save them from diseases and deaths, she added.
Mr. Imad Mohamed from Maldives said that his country has launched a massive campaign to collect funds for Pakistan, while the Maldives government has contributed 3 million Rufiyaa to Pakistan. He said being a Muslim country, it is responsibility of Maldives to help their brothers in Pakistan in their difficult time.
The speakers including Arezoo Qanih (Afghanistan), Mohiuddin Ahmad (Bangladesh) and Arun Rai (Bhutan) expressed the hope that their countries would also step forward and do what they could.
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Page 30 of 174
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