Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative to work out some regional response to fight Coronavirus is well-intended and may infuse some life in the otherwise defunct SAARC framework. "Non-traditional security threats like health issues, food insecurity and climate change are expected to get more attention," opine experts. "With almost a quarter of the world's population, South Asia is the world's most densely populated region. South Asian countries should start thinking beyond state-centric security approach and move towards cooperative and human security aspects," says Dr Raj Kumar Sharma, Consultant, Faculty of Political Science, IGNOU, New Delhi.
According to Dr Raj Kumar Sharma, "Under the SAARC framework, health should be on top of the agenda and a strategy should be chalked out to deal with emergencies like Coronavirus. It is high time to move forward on ideas like SAARC medical university. At the same time, we need to create an aware citizenry in the region which acts as an asset in such circumstances."
Terming it a positive development for the SAARC region, Ambassador Anil Trigunayat says, "This will be the second time that PM Modi has given it requisite infusion and impetus. The first time was at his swearing-in ceremony in 2014 and now, to meet the challenges of the poverty-stricken region have been compounded by the Corona epidemic which requires a unified response."
"India will have to take on the role of the first responder in the region. Indians and several other nationalities have been evacuated by India from corona infected areas. All member countries including Pakistan welcomed and agreed to be part of PM Modi’s call of joint action," the former ambassador observes.
According to Trigunayat, "Pakistan will hope that this could revive the hope for long pending SAARC Summit with India’s participation. If indeed some concrete collaboration happens at an intra-SAARC level and Pakistan PM participates in the SCO Summit in India later this year it is likely that India might go along with the SAARC Summit in due course which might bring the organisation back on track."
What has the Prime Minister Proposed?
India has pledged $10 million South Asian COVID-19 Emergency Fund. The Foreign Secretaries will finalize this.
India has also offered Rapid Response Teams which will have doctors, specialists and testing gear.
There will be Online training for SAARC nations’ emergency response staff.
There will be a follow-up through video-conferencing with doctors etc.
Impact of the pandemic on intra-regional trade and development will be assessed by the trade officials of the region.
Prime Minister Modi has offered to share the software of the country's Integrated Health Information Platform for Disease Surveillance and usage training.
To identify and popularize best practices, SAARC Disaster Management Centre will be used.
ICMR will help to set up a Research Platform for sharing ideas for diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for diseases.
Also, India has offered to set up a website with COVID19 informational material which will be available in all languages.
On Sunday evening, Modi addressed the SAARC nations which were represented by ‘Heads of State’ or ‘Heads of Government’ to discuss Covid-19.
Through the video conference, he urged the member nations to formulate a strategy for the region to fight the Coronavirus pandemic and not to panic.
The leaders discussed strategies to assist each other in times of medical emergencies.