From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : SAARC
Mains level : Paper 2- South Asian countries' response to pandemic
The article analyses how South Asia is dealing with the pandemic and the need for coordinated action by the countries across the region.
Varying response across the region
- Governments in South Asian countries have responded in varying degrees to counter the health and economic crises.
- India resumed its economic activities on a limited scale following a strict lockdown.
- Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did the same after an extended lockdown.
- Bhutan and the Maldives have managed to largely contain community transmission and avoid prolonged lockdowns due to a higher testing rate.
- This is consistent with the hypothesis that countries that have conducted more tests have been more successful in containing the pandemic.
Low mortality in the region
- Unlike other regions, South Asian countries are experiencing a lower mortality rate despite having a higher infection rate.
- However, epidemiological studies and the World Health Organization’s reviews have been sceptical about the data reliability.
Effectiveness of state responses
- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives have unveiled stimulus packages.
- The rest of the countries are yet to announce any concrete support for their low income and lower-middle income population still suffering from the economic fallout of the crisis.
- In late March, India announced a $22.5 billion relief package to ensure food security and cash transfers to save the livelihoods of an estimated 800 million people living in poverty.
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slashed the repo and reverse repo rate to create liquidity for businesses.
- In early April, Bangladesh announced a stimulus package worth about $8 billion in addition to an earlier $595 million incentive package for export-oriented industries.
- Although countries like India and Bangladesh announced financial and material stimulus packages, distribution concerns remain unaddressed.
United response by SAAR
- The region need to look beyond narrow geopolitical rivalry and come together to work towards a well-coordinated response mechanism.
- A SAARC COVID-19 fund was created following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to South Asian leaders.
- Bbut governments are yet to decide on its modus operandi.
- The region could leverage its existing institutional framework under the umbrella of SAARC to effectively respond to the crisis.
- For instance, SAARC Food Banks could be activated to tackle the imminent regional food crisis, and the SAARC Finance Forum can be activated to formulate a regional economic policy response.
Faced with an unprecedented crisis, this is the right time for the leaders of the region to come together and take on the challenge collectively.