Nepal: Concept paper set by SACEPS and FES for Upcoming SAARC Summit

Telegraph Nepal

Background:

The principle goal of SAARC is to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia to improve their quality of life, to accelerate economic growth and to provide them opportunities to live in dignity. While the people of South Asia are enjoying democratic rights to formal entitlements like citizenship, free speech, election and freedom, yet lack of access to real live conditions such as education, health, job and social security deprives people of the very foundation of the real freedom. Moreover, pervasive global exigencies and potential external shocks pose high threat to the wellbeing of societies and their people, in particular the vulnerable groups. Likewise, multi-dimensional challenges such as the informalisation of work, corruption, class, gender and geographic inequalities and disparities, environmental degradation, energy shortages, migration, armed conflicts and other non-traditional security threats are exacerbating the poverty and undermining the social security and stability in South Asia.

Globally, there is a growing recognition that social protection is not only a human right but also an economic necessity. Social protection policies not only serve as a safety net for the very poor but also as temporary buffer in times of crisis. Above all, they are important instruments for reducing poverty and inequality, for forging social cohesion and political stability as well as for supporting inclusive growth by enhancing human capital and productivity, boosting domestic demand and promoting structural changes of national economies (1). Some countries in South Asia have made their mark with a few innovative rights-based programmes, yet their coverage in terms of width and depth is an issue. As a matter of fact, social protection for all, particularly the marginalized and needy, still remains an abstract promise than a reality in South Asia.

In this context, the regional cooperation in the social sector including social protection has been receiving attention of the SAARC Member States. The 12 th SAARC Summit in 2004 hailed the signing of the Social Charter “as a historic development which would have far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of South Asians. (2) The Heads of the National Coordination Committees (NCC) of SAARC, while noting that there are a number of initiatives in the Member States aligned to social protection, agreed that there is a need to further explore the possibilities of developing a regional strategy on social protection.( 3) In the interest of expediting the matter to provide social protection to those who might be affected most and to prevent further impoverishment of the poor, they also agreed to seek consultation of regional experts to assess the situation and provide recommendation for instituting measures on the ground. Nonetheless, it is learned that the SAARC is yet to commission such exercises. By and large, the official process of regional cooperation has given a high priority to institutional issues and declaration. However, there is still a need to develop a regional dimension on social protection in the region.

A separate focused regional declaration on social protection is a felt need for institutionalizing social protection in South Asia as a policy to address issues of persistent poverty and social inequalities. This is important because 40% of the world’s poor live in South Asia and four out of eight countries of South Asia fall in the category of the UN-defined least developed countries (LDC5).(4) The region has one of the lowest human development index (HDI) in regional comparisons with prevalence of high inequality and exclusion in the region(5).The next SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, scheduled for November 2014, presents an opportunity to further the strengthening of the social protection by proposing coherent policy alternatives at national and regional level.

Against this background, South Asia Centre for Policy Studies (SACEPS) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) are jointly organizing this multi-stakeholder regional conference to discuss the declaration on strengthening of social protection in South Asia. A draft declaration will be developed in the forefront by SACEPS and its partner organisations in South Asia who are involved in research and policy-advocacy in the social security field. It will integrate comments and feedback from concerned government agencies, representative of the SAARC secretariat, selected representatives of civil society, trade unions, and academia and business sector from across South Asia. The draft declaration will be presented and discussed in the regional conference for finalization.

Objectives of the conference:

The ultimate objective of this regional conference is to formulate a Declaration on strengthening social protection to be submitted to the host government of the upcoming SAARC Summit in November 2014. The conference also seeks to better understand the country perspectives on linkages between social security, human development and economic growth at the conceptual level. Lessons should be drawn from the strengths and weaknesses of national programs to subsequently propose coherent social policies at national and regional level. Also, the discussions at the conference should help sharpen the regional perspective on issues of social protection.

# Participants:

The conference will convene experts and key stakeholders in the field of social protection. Participants will be drawn from all SAARC member countries representing policymakers, academia, civil society, and trade unions.

PS: The Regional conference ended August 22, 2014.

1 World Social Protection Report 2014/15, ILO, 2014

2 Islamabad Declaration, clause 18, 12th SAARC Summit, 4-6 January 2004

3 http://saarc-sec.org/areaofcooperation/cletail. php?activity id=7

4 Human Development Report, UNDP 2013

5 Human Development Report, UNDP 2013.

PS: Thanks FES and SACEPS for permission: Ed.

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