Fast Forward to Economic Development
The South Asia Economic Summit (SAES) is being held in Colombo from September 2 to 4 this year. It will be hosted by Sri Lanka’s leading economic policy think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). The event was instituted in 2008 and is held in a different South Asian country each time. The Summit has become the premier regional event that debates socio-economic issues facing South Asia and brings together leading experts from academia, government, civil society and the private sector in this region. The agenda for this year’s SAES concerns the various critical issues that face the economies and people of South Asia, including the imperatives for closer regional cooperation. The Summit is expected to host around 150 foreign delegates from South Asia and beyond, and will feature several special events including a televised debate on regional economic integration.
It is heartening to note that in this endeavour, which has been initiated from within the region, speakers will consider the various growth opportunities and challenges that South Asia has on offer in the context of changing global economic dynamics. This makes the Summit comparable to the World Economic Forum which is held every year in Davos, Switzerland. The SAES Summit theme this year is ‘Towards a Stronger, Dynamic, and Inclusive South Asia’ and it is expected over the three days of deliberations, that various aspects of the theme will be discussed within the regional context.
Along with the Summit’s proceedings, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) will conduct a Policy Dialogue on ‘Building Resilience to Natural Disasters and Major Economic Crises‘. South Asia has been battered in recent years by a relentless series of shocks linked to natural disasters and economic crises. The region is particularly vulnerable to disasters caused by natural hazards, with recurring floods, drought, earthquakes and landslides causing loss of life and widespread damage. For example, in Pakistan the estimated damage resulting from the 2010 floods was close to $10 billion. The region has also been hard hit by economic shocks, such as the 2008 financial crisis and convulsions in global markets that led to rocketing food and energy prices. The traditional approach has been to consider such events individually but this is becoming increasingly unrealistic. Today, natural disasters and economic crises are interlinked by and large, giving rise to complex combinations of risk. Governments across South Asia often find themselves dealing with overlapping shocks that demand a more comprehensive and systemic approach to building resilience. This means that the capacity of countries to withstand, adapt to, and recover from natural disasters and major economic crises, will be discussed threadbare so that their people can continue to lead the kind of life they value.
The broad themes of the Summit - harnessing human capital; tackling environmental challenges and climate change; managing intra-country growth disparities; and supporting the competitiveness of private-sector enterprises – are expected to bring into focus some basic issues that the region needs to contend with in order to carve a positive future course. Since 2008, the Summit has become the premier regional event that debates socio-economic issues facing South Asia. A lack of engagement in economic policy-making processes has been a limiting factor to growth and regional integration in these countries. It is envisioned that the policy recommendations which emerge from the Summit would positively influence the direction of official processes in the various countries and those of individual governments in the region.