Barely Holding On
South Asia today faces a myriad of problems ranging from child labor to terrorism and food security to unstable economies. Efforts from the international community are imperative for survival.
South Asia is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-himalayan countries and, for some authorities, also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east. South Asia essentially encompasses countries that were part of the former British Empire in the region, including the current territories of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at the core, but also including Sri Lanka and Myanmar amongst others.
Over one-fifth of the world population resides in South Asia. The annual per capita expenditure on human priority areas of basic education, primary health care, family planning, safe drinking water and nutritional programs is just $3 in Pakistan and $2 dollars in Bangladesh. To put this in perspective, one might draw comparisons with other Asian nations such as Malaysia ($123) and Korea ($133). East Asian nations have highlighted investment in human development as a key strategy of economic growth. This idea has unfortunately not reached the policymakers in South Asia. As a result, all countries in South Asia (except Sri Lanka) fall into the category of Low Human Development because South Asia’s share in global income is only 2%.
Unfortunately, South Asians are still fighting for their dignity of life and are facing diverse human rights challenges along with structural weaknesses in addressing the violation of human rights committed by state agents. Sexual exploitation of children, women and human trafficking are common regional problems. Although South Asia is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world, protection mechanisms are not in place to promote and protect the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. In some states citizens have to face censorship and restrictions on their freedom of expression. Asia is the only continent to have no regional human rights mechanism.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has developed a series of indexes that appear annually in its Human Development Report in an effort to better understand where a nation stands in terms of the rest of the world. However, the United Nations has failed in many ways in South Asia, which includes the fight against corruption: one of the most difficult and important battles that South Asia faces today. The scale of the problems faced and the number of people involved are so extensive that success or failure in South Asia poses defining challenges to the core mandates of the United Nations.
Developments in South Asia cut across the major weaknesses of the UN system with respect to the challenges of economic development, environmental protection, food and water security,
democratic governance and human rights, nuclear war and peace, interstate and internal conflicts and new security issues like AIDS and international terrorism.
The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre ( SAHRDC) is a network of individuals across the region. It seeks to investigate, document and disseminate information about human rights treaties and conventions, human rights education, refugees, media freedom, prison reforms, political imprisonment, torture, summary executions, disappearances and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. SAHRDC has Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Transparency International and Amnesty International are also working to bring positive change in South Asia. However, pressing concerns such as education for children, child labor and women’s issues ( health, hygiene and domestic violence) remain rampant throughout the region.
South Asia constitutes close to 1.64 billion people (24 percent of the world’s population) who are facing severe humanitarian crises. Mortality and fertility rates remain low in unpredictable and unstable political and economic conditions. Increasing terrorism, rampant corruption and deteriorating business conditions will only add to the challenge for survival. The future of this region certainly looks bleak without the concerned involvement of international humanitarian and peace agencies such as the UN. The writer holds an MBA in Media Management and writes on social issues.