Parliamentarians, civil society leaders, academia and government officials from South Asian countries called upon the leaders meeting at the 18th SAARC summit to reaffirm their commitments and pledges for a coordinated regional response to meet the interdependent challenges of climate change, disasters and food insecurity as delay in implementing the already signed agreements would fail millions of South Asians to survive through hazardous impacts of climate change.
They were speaking at a two-day Regional Policy Forum on Disasters, Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security which concluded in Kathmandu. The Forum was jointly organized by Oxfam and its partners.
Government and civil society representatives from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended the Forum.
According to a press release issued by Oxfam, SAARC has already signed agreement to establish SAARC Food Bank and Seed Bank in 2004, the Thimpu Statement on Climate Change in 2010, Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters, and the SAARC Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management in 2011. There is need to implement them making them legally binding.
"The speakers shared best practices from respective countries but were of the view that the coordination at regional level is somehow weak. Without binding commitments and formal report-back requirements, the implementation record has been poor," said press release.
According to Lillian Mercado, Oxfam Deputy Regional Director, “there are enough treaties and agreements in place – it is now time to implement commitments.” Dr. Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, referred to climate change as one of the greatest threats to human rights and termed it an issue of “climate justice”.
In the face of growing climate and disaster risk, political buy-in and appropriate budget allocations are essential for effective implementation of policies and legislation. Hon. Subhash Chandra Nembang, Chair of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal said, “We need to change our behaviors. Let’s not get to the point of no return”. Deputy Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament Advocate Fazle Rabbi Mia also made a commitment to raise awareness amongst fellow parliamentarians and other government officials to prioritize regional cooperation on these issues. The participants agreed that there is a need to rise above regional political divides to address these key issues.
Recommendations on the theme of Disaster Management, Emergency Response and Risk Reduction says SAARC leaders must prioritize sharing of information on expected rains and water flows ahead of floods and develop gender sensitive disaster risk reduction plans at community level.
They also call to strengthen the SAARC Secretariat and Disaster Management Center to improve collaboration with CSOs and policy research institutions.
They held the view that governments should form special parliamentary committees on disaster management and climate change adaptation responsible for oversight of disaster management authorities. The parliamentary committees of all SAARC member states should establish regular coordination mechanisms. And they agree that the governments must integrate DRR-CCA across sectoral development plans at national, district and local levels – such as Agriculture and Food Security, Education, Health, Urban Planning and Environment, Water and Sanitation.
Recommendations on the theme of Climate Change include the Inter-Governmental Expert Group on Climate Change established under the Thimphu Statement must be reinvigorated to develop clear policy direction and guidance for regional cooperation, SAARC must prioritize the development of its hydropower potential and reduce its carbon-fuel dependency for energy generation and SAARC should jointly push rich countries for increasing their contribution to the Green Climate Fund so that South Asia can benefit to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Recommendations on the theme of Agriculture and Food Security includes SAARC Food and Seed Bank operationalization should be made a priority by simplifying triggers and procedures for access and removing barriers to their use, the capacity of the SAARC Agriculture Center must be enhanced to support regional agricultural collaboration and research and development and mechanisms should be institutionalized to include the concerns of small-holder farmers particularly women farmers in the operationalization of the SAARC Seed and Food Banks.