Since its creation in December 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not been effective in promoting economic cooperation among its members. Two SAARC regional centers - SAARC Disaster Management Centre and SAARC Food Back could not play any supportive role in Nepal's earthquake response. Now against the spirit of regional cooperation, India has created blockade on Nepal, and SAARC has remained silent. The imbalance of power within SAARC has led to India's hegemony, and conflict between India and its neighbors to undermine regional cooperation. This raises a serious question over SAARC's relevance beyond the ceremonial summits and declarations.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and geopolitical organization of eight countries in South Asia. Desirous of promoting peace, stability, amity and progress in the region through strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter and Non-Alignment, particularly respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence, non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and peaceful settlement of all disputes, the member states signed on SAARC Charter.
While signing the Charter, the member states affirmed about the common problems, interests and aspirations of the peoples of South Asia and the need for joint action and enhanced cooperation within their respective political and economic systems and cultural traditions. We need to be reminded that the SAARC objectives aim to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia and to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another's problems. The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987 to coordinate and monitor the implementation of SAARC activities, service the meetings of the Association and serve as the channel of communication between SAARC and other international organizations. Nepal is currently the SAARC Chair as well as the SAARC Secretary GenCral.
Two SAARC Regional centers - SAARC Disaster Management Centre and SAARC Food Bank set up to work during regional crisis failed to respond during Nepal’s devastated earthquake. While, SAARC countries provided some rescue and relief support, SAARC failed to coordinate a collective response. It's very sad that SAARC had recognized disaster preparedness and response as a priority long time ago as South Asia is one of the most disaster prone regions of the world. The 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka in November 2005 considered the issues of regional cooperation for preparedness and mitigation of national disasters and approved the offer of India to set up a SAARC Disaster Management Centre Management in New Delhi. The 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo in August 2008 entrusted to the SAARC Disaster Management Center to develop a Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism (NDRRM) for coordination and planned approach to meet emergencies.
The SAARC Disaster Management Center, established in 2006, aims to establish regional and national response mechanism, establish and improve search and rescue mechanism and establishing a post-disaster recovery and reconstruction mechanism. However, there is no progress on the ground. While SAARC Disaster Management Centre is to be blamed for non-action towards Nepal's massive earthquake, Nepal government is equally to be blamed for lack of leadership to push the Disaster Management Center.
Likewise, the SAARC Food Bank could not provide needed food during the earthquake crisis in Nepal. SAARC established SAARC Food Bank in 2007 to secure food items during times of crisis in the region, but it is yet to be operationalized. Again, Nepal government could not any leadership to make an official demand with the bank.
Then comes the blockade imposed by India on Nepal against the spirit of SAARC, but the SAARC member states have been silent at the level of the Heads of the States or Heads of the Governments. The blockade is also against an agreement on a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). SAFTA aims to promote and enhance mutual trade and economic cooperation by eliminating barriers to trade, promoting conditions of fair competition in the free trade area, ensuring equitable benefits to all, and establishing a framework for further regional cooperation to expand the mutual benefits of the agreement. SAFTA cannot function with the economic blockade.
What is SAARC Secretariat doing? As the current Chair of SAARC, Nepal should to call an emergency meeting of member states and brief them about the situation. SAARC's inaction in both the recent crises, earthquake and blockade, have raised the relevancy of SAARC beyond the ceremonial summits and declarations. Surprisingly, international community has also been silent to speak against India's blockade. Nepalese ambassadors have also been not effective to appraise the international community at this time of crisis. This is a public call for SAARC to be proactive and prove its relevancy.
Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org