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South Asia Shining in Some Ways, Suffering in Others

The countries in South Asia may be thriving economically, but the region must work together to tackle the problems of poverty, gender inequality and climate change, according to experts at the recent South Asia Economic Summit (SAES).

The SAES is an initiative of the premier civil society think-tanks in South Asia. This year's event was held in Sri Lanka from 2nd to 4th September 2013 hosted by the island's leading economic policy think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). Since 2008, the SAES is hosted in a different South Asian country annually.

This year’s SAES discussed regional issues like harnessing human capital, managing water, food security and climate change, and sought for more regional cooperation. One hundred and twenty renowned socio-economic experts gathered in Colombo for the summit, whose theme was “Towards a Stronger, Dynamic and Inclusive South Asia”, to debate and discuss over the course of the three days.

An important feature of this event was the active debates on the conference theme by participants and followers in social media. The conference blog was very active as well as the Facebook, Flickr and Twitter channels. The event was live webcast.

Tahmina Shafique, a blogger and an Youth Delegate from Bangladesh, wrote about the scope of the summit and challenges of the participating countries:

The summit has brought together a wide range of stakeholders from the eight SAARC countries. The stakeholders consist of representatives from key think tanks, academic institutions, policy institutes, and international agencies. Perhaps the key highlight of this summit is the inclusion of a group of young leaders who will be engaged in analysis and dissemination of the key discussions. This is certainly a move away from the traditional closed-door civil society talks and opens up the platform for engagement of young leaders in these cooperation initiatives.

The summit is most relevant at a time when there is an urgent need for increased synergies among the South Asian countries. A region that is thriving and growing at the back drop of its rich culture, traditions, economic activities and overall increased growth, faces numerous challenges. Arenas such as poverty, gender parity, food security, climate change, and various other factors remain to be areas that need to be focused upon in a more strategic and sustained manner.

Photographs from South Asian countries compiled by Easa Samih. CC BY (Click on the image for info on photographers)

Photographs from South Asian countries compiled by Easa Samih. CC BY (Click on the image for detailed info on photographers)

Abdul Halik Azeez, blogger and an youth delegate from Sri Lanka, started with the changing weather in Colombo and what it means for the region:

The unpredictability of monsoons, while mildly inconveniencing the city’s cubicle warriors with cumbersome umbrellas, plays havoc in the region’s agricultural sector, the rise in sea level threatens low lying islands, the melting of ice caps in the Himalayas threatens norms of water flow and while Colombo may have been benefited with a welcome bout of cooler weather other parts of the region have faced extended spells of debilitating heat. Besides, of the sea level rises that stroll along Galle Face could soon turn into a wade. All these changes affect millions of lives and threaten the already struggling development processes of the region.

Blogger Aarya Nijat, an youth delegate from Afghanistan, mentioned that politics is the game changer:

The Afghan-French author of The Patience Stone Atiq Rahimi wrote: “…in Iran just as well as in Afghanistan (and perhaps South Asia) words defy tyranny… the existential problem isn’t “to be or not to be …” but to say or not to say… Thus, any act becomes political. Even silence. Even lies… The problem lies in each of us, because our hearts are sealed… So should we still doubt the political dimension of literature? I’d say NO, because literature is a fight against all political systems. It is the power of words against the words of power.”

In a post on the last day of the summit, Nijat asked ”Are We Discussing the Real Questions?”:

Is the public and private sectors pursue similar interests or goals, if you will? What is it that the two share in terms of their sense of purpose, upon which a potential partnership can be built? Why don’t we talk about this?

Nandish Kenia, youth delegate from India, discussed whether the private sector can bring the change:

One of the arguments that persists is that why is it wrong to trade if the farmer is getting a huge lump sum of money for his small piece of land by an industrialist? Is he responsible for moving away from green revolution?

Trisha Rana, youth delegate from Nepal, commented that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an organization of South Asian nations established in 1985 for the promotion of economic and social progress, cultural development, friendship and cooperation within the South Asia region, has failed to make an impact among the South Asian countries:

How can we move ahead with a coming together of South Asian hearts, even as we have failed to merge our practical, finance heads?

There were also discussions in Twitter:

Pakistani economist Nadeem Haque (@nadeemhaque) wrote:

Top Google executive Ann Lavin spoke at the event. Abdul Halik Azeez (@HalikAzeez) from Sri Lanka wrote:

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