South Asia Shining and Suffering…

Guest Post by Trishna Rana, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Nepal

Inaugurating the sixth South Asia Summit in Colombo on Monday morning, minister for planning from Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal in his keynote address kept revisiting a theme which I hope other speakers pick up during the next three days of the conference. Economies are ‘shining’, but large populations find themselves outside the purview of this prosperity with incomes of less than $2 a day and are ‘suffering’. So despite forging ahead financially in the the last decade, the region is plagued by deep running inequalities.

Sri Lanka is a perfect case of this contradictory pulls. Four years after the end of the war, previously bombed roads have given way to neat black topped roads and highways around the capital, high rises dominate the skyline, and international companies are lining up to start business. But what about those left behind? This ‘challenge of exclusion’ as Iqbal puts it should be the focus of the eight countries as they look ahead to the future and says greater investment in human capital – one fifth of the residents in the region are between 15-24 – and social justice is the way to go .

Given that all South Asian nations share many of these challenges – post-conflict rebuilding, under-nourishment, low HDI rankings – regional cooperation makes sense. In reality, though, grappled with domestic issues, there is not as much engagement as there ought to be. It’s no wonder then that countries in the region are better connected to Europe than with one other; land connectivity in particular has remained much the same for centuries.

Talking at the summit Jagdish Pokhrel, former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission in Nepal, suggested an ‘energy mix’ between countries with comparative advantages to promote greater integration and intra-South Asian trade. For instance Bangladesh with its reserves of natural gas exchanging energy with Nepal which is rich in hydropower.

The conference is being live-streamed here and you can joint the discussion on Twitter with #saes2013.

Trishna Rana (Nepali Times), Youth Delegate