Southern Asia’s collective association of nations, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), will hold its upcoming summit in the Maldives. Member countries, including the Maldives, have agreed to an agenda consisting of topics relating to the group’s preparedness and ability to deal with disasters.
Prompted by the recent spate of devastating natural disasters including this year’s Japanese earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami, topics at the summit will focus on strengthening SAARC’s Disaster Management Center and disaster risk reduction measures.
The 2004 tsunami was one of the Maldives’ darkest days, with 108 fatalities including six foreigners, and serious-to-critical damage of 57 islands. Much of the nation’s tourism industry was forced to start from scratch, with a total of 21 resort islands affected by the disaster.
The Summit will be held in the Maldives with Bhutanese Prime Minister, Jigmi Y Thinley, acting in his capacity as SAARC’s chairman. Thinley has been advocating for stronger disaster management strategies for member states. Bhutan’s PM recently visited the Maldives in late March for a three-day official visit, where he met with country’s President Mohamed Nasheed.
SAARC’s Disaster Management Center is based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, and provides relief effort and aid to countries devastated by disasters. Some of the SAARC member countries have been pushing for improvements to be made to the Disaster Management Center and its ability to provide a better response to countries in crisis.
The current Secretary General of SAARC is Dhiyana Saeed. She was the first female and the youngest Secretary General of SAARC when she took office on 1 March this year.
Dhiyana is the second Maldivian to be appointed as SAARC Secretary General, after Special Envoy to the President, Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, who served as the Secretary General from 1 January 1992 to 31 December 1993.
SAARC was founded in 1985 with the aims of promoting cultural development and emphasising collective self-reliance. The Maldives is one of the association’s founding members, and played a role in a number of the association’s initiatives, such as the South Asian Free Trade Area and the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangements.
The collective group of nations is observed by representatives from non-member countries, while SAARC members include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.