SAARC Ministers meet find poverty is coming down in South Asia but challenges remain

Bhutan hosted the Fourth Meeting of SAARC Ministers on Poverty Alleviation preceded by the Sixth Meeting of SAARC Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation on July 28 -29 in Thimphu.

The SAARC Ministers reviewed the implementation of decisions taken at the Third Meeting of SAARC Ministers on poverty alleviation. The ministers also discussed issues, shared experiences and best practices. The meeting also explored new ideas in addressing poverty and strengthening ties, in terms of regional cooperation amongst member states.

The Fourth Meeting was chaired by the Finance Minister, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, and Sixth Meeting of SAARC Secretaries was chaired by the Gross National Happiness Commission Secretary.

During a press conference, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said the meeting adopted the progress made in the field of poverty alleviation in the respective SAARC countries so far. He said each member country had done remarkable and commendable job.

He added that the second outcome was that member countries are well on track, in terms of socio-economic plan that are in line with poverty alleviation. He said that one-third of the member countries also agreed to review SAARC development goals and plans of action on poverty alleviation, in light of post 2015 development goals. Lyonpo said member countries have agreed to use the forum to share best practices and innovative idea on poverty alleviation.

During the inaugural session of the meeting, Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, said, “We all know that South Asia has achieved a significant overall development and economic growth in recent decades. Some of our countries and citizens have become world leaders in fields, as powerful and dynamic as telecom and ICT, in literature and the arts, in cultural and spiritual practices, in the culinary traditions, tourism, and many other areas.”

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay also pointed out that the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November last year noted that despite natural and man-made disasters, South Asia had indeed come a long way in improving the lives of its citizens, especially when nearly one-third of South Asians live on less than a dollar and half a day.

Lyonchhen said eradicating hunger and food poverty remains an important objective given that this extreme form of human deprivation is deeply inimical to the notion of human happiness and well-being. Therefore, the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) targets have been met everywhere except in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

He said that the MDGs aimed to halve extreme poverty and the post-2015 development agenda. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to reinforce efforts in eradicating poverty and ending hunger. “These are welcome achievements, but we cannot ignore the fact that the eradication of poverty is still a distant aspiration,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen pointed out that Bhutan, this year, pays a special tribute to a selfless leader who devoted 34 years of his life to improving the social and economic well being of the country. “This year, as we celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of our Beloved Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck who gave us the legacy of Gross National Happiness, a paradigm for human development.”

The overall goal of the Eleventh FYP (2013-2018) is ‘Self-Reliance and Inclusive Green Socio-Economic Development’, with particular focus on reducing multi-dimensional poverty, income inequalities, malnutrition and growing urban poverty. Therefore, Targeted Household Poverty Programme (THPP) is initiated to target the poorest households. 3154 poorest households have been identified based on multidimensional poverty selection criteria and surveys are underway to re-validate the households, develop need-based interventions and establish a comprehensive poverty database in the country.

Secretary General of SAARC, Arjun Bahadur Thapa, said that the meeting has taken place at a very crucial time, especially when whole communities are at the threshold of deciding post-2015 development agenda.

He said, “We have come to the final year of implementation of SAARC development goal.” He added that a sizable population in the region lies in desolate poverty due to limited resources.

The Third Meeting of SAARC Ministers on poverty alleviation preceded by the Fifth Meeting of the SAARC Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation was held in Kathmandu in 2013.

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