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United Nations: The South Asian Story

By Srimal Fernando and Abhishekh Ganesh

29 April 2020

Every nation in South Asia has its unique policy choices which ensures to improve the lives of 1.6 billion people. Looking back at the region, numerous policy measures and mass up-liftment programs set the building blocks to achieve reasonable levels of human development despite slow economic growth.

Furthermore, revising the decades of underperformance, the countries in South Asia rose several notches in the United Nations Development Programme‘s (UNDPs) Human Development Index (HDI) ranking to finish above medium human development group category ( 2019).

Though the poverty ratio in the region has declined significantly since the onset of development aid from the United Nations (UN’s), the rising inequalities in these countries threatens to interrupt the plan of human development well-being. Over the course of subsequent years further complementary aspects of the pragmatic strategy chosen by the UN facilitated the stabilization efforts in the region. 

As a part of the exemplary story the UN was pushing South Asia in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. UN’s yearly assistance to South Asian nations now exceeds several billion United States (US) dollars.  Despite high-level collaborations the year 2020 could equally be considered as an immensely important year for UN and South Asia due to coronavirus pandemic: The new trend of UN relations with South Asian countries will be momentous and will go a long way.
UN Response to Coronavirus disease in South Asia

The Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak claimed more than 1500 victims in South Asia. As many as 50,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported so far across the region the UN remains genuinely dedicated to responding to the needs of Covid-affected people in the region. In addition, the UN for example, in some frontline operations in disaster-prone regions and providing relief to the covid 19 effected communities and working to flatten the coronavirus disease curve in the region. Moreover, due to the coronavirus crisis situation in South Asia UN and the South Asian authorities are finding it challenging to handle this deadly respiratory disease spreading rapidly across the region.

UN and the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs)

South Asia needs to tackle medium term challenges and structural constraints to unleash its enormous growth potential. A crucial challenge is the strengthening of its productive and international competitiveness, as the region is lagging in several competitiveness indicators. The new UN’s process had begun to unravel a new combination where development assistance, to South Asian countries mostly allocated for development, health services and peace and stabilization segments than any other sectors.

UN in partnership with India’s Ministry of Water Resources, worked on River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation in India to improve the quality of water and rejuvenate the river, helping the country reach its millennium development goals.  Further more UN Action Framework primarily focused on the India’s Northern and Eastern states under the United Nations Development Action Framework.

Hence, in Sri Lanka the UNDP Country Programme 2013-2017 focused on ‘Governance for Empowerment and Social Inclusion’ and ‘Environmental Sustainability and Resilience’ based on the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). UN aid to Sri Lanka from 2008-2012 amounted to approximately U$75 million. Moreover, the UN in Sri Lanka is planning working on a Peacebuilding Priority Plan which presents the country's priorities in a strategic direction. The Maldives received noticeable contribution from the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) implemented a USD 2 million programme (MVR 30 million) for development programme over the course of 2016-2017 (UNICEF Maldives 2016)

Moving beyond India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives UNs work has been surrounding poverty reduction, democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, environment and energy four main interlinked areas in four  of  the  South Asian nations (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal and in Pakistan) other than the  small  island nations  In Pakistan, the United Nations Development Programme has contributed to strengthening the electoral processes, peace building and tackling climate change  In taking forward the SDG agenda in South Asia  UN  has launched  the  Projects  such as  Strengthening the rule of law, building capacity in district courts in  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan,  the six hundred transport Project  in Afghanistan, systematizing the building permit system in Nepal  and  the Tshering Penjor project in Bhutan are innovative projects that are brings South Asia closer to reaching their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs ). However, the UN initiatives in South Asia has further room to grow.

UN Peace Keeping Operations

South Asia is an active contributor to the UN as well and provides a noteworthy contribution to the United Nations efforts to maintain peace. This is mainly through military, police and civilian contingents. Over 32,000 United Nations (UN) peacekeeping troops made up of military, police and civilian contingents from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka has been actively involved in peace operations for several decades. India has been a leading contributor to UN peacekeeping with 7,700 personnel deployed on peacekeeping missions and Sri Lanka has contributed over 400 troops to the United Nations peacekeeping efforts.

In addition, for political stability the UNs stabilizing efforts concentrated on macro goals aimed at reducing volatility and stabilizing economies in the region The region with the support of UN agencies is on the right path to continue to achieve socio, economic and political progress that would safeguard the wellbeing of all South Asians for many years to come.

Srimal Fernando is a Doctoral Fellow at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), India and Advisor / Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. He is the winner of the 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ award in South Africa, and has been the recipient of GCA Media Award for 2016.

Abhishekh Ganesh is a Social Entrepreneur and an MBA Scholar from Jindal Global Business School (JGBS), India. He is the recipient of the Google Start-up Weekend - Best Start-up Idea 2018 award and was selected as a representation from India to present his social venture at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI U Exhibition) 2018 in the University of Chicago, USA which was presided by Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton.]




February/March 2020








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