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.

Southasia - - Human development - By Faiza Hai

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.

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