Bangladesh’s Assistance to Sri Lanka Reignites Ideas of SAARC Reconstruction

As the island nation of Sri Lanka confronts a terrible economic and humanitarian food crisis, its prime minister has warned of a food shortage, promising to buy enough fertilizer for the upcoming planting season to enhance yields. Sri Lanka is pleading with its neighbors for food assistance as its fiscal problem worsens into a humanitarian disaster. The government has applied for help from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) food bank, which has previously provided rice and other necessities to member governments during food emergencies. 

It’s worth noting that SAARC is currently dormant due to the Indo-Pak matter. However, all regional parties, including Pakistan and India, should work together this time to resurrect SAARC to maximize regional interests. India should be aware of present regional challenges and approach the resurrection of SAARC with pragmatism. Pakistan must increase its diplomatic engagement with other countries.

Bangladesh has agreed to provide potato aid to Sri Lanka to resolve the country’s ongoing food crisis. Amid the ongoing crisis, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has vowed that her government will deliver potatoes to Sri Lanka. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina delivered this guarantee during a meeting with Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Secretary-General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

In times of difficulty, Bangladesh stands ready to support Sri Lanka as a friend and neighbor. It is true that, by working together, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other members of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) can overcome the crisis. The assistance is intended to support the Government of Sri Lanka’s efforts in overcoming its looming humanitarian crisis. Sri Lanka can benefit from such kind of bilateral assistance.

At Ganabhaban, the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s residence, Weerakoon paid a courtesy call. On Sunday, Sheikh Hasina urged South Asian countries to cooperate in the fight against poverty, characterizing it as the region’s most significant opponent.

“We, the countries in this region, should work together to achieve our goals. Many issues can be resolved in a bilateral manner,” she informed the Secretary-General of SAARC.

As a result of the country’s faltering economy, which has resulted in shortages of vital products, such as food, and a rise in food prices, families’ access to inexpensive, healthful meals has been hampered. As a result, malnutrition rates among children and women were significant even before the pandemic. For example, approximately 40 percent of primary-aged children were underweight for their height.

Bangladesh will send Sri Lanka a humanitarian potato relief package to help alleviate severe shortages caused by the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory. They will be delivered to low-income families in various sections of the country.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has stated that despite Bangladesh’s large population, the country may offer potatoes to Sri Lanka during this period. She claimed that in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak and the war between Ukraine and Russia, Bangladesh has taken initiatives to increase food production.

Bangladeshi scientists are working to develop saline and drought-tolerant rice types, according to Sheikh Hasina. Weerakoon lauded Bangladesh’s contribution to the SAARC Agriculture Centre. He claimed the pandemic is also to blame for his country’s continued economic difficulties, and he thanked Bangladesh for its assistance to the island nation.

He noted that Sri Lanka now requires fertilizer because rice production has decreased by 50%.

Prime Minister Hasina asked South Asian countries to join forces in the fight against poverty, which she described as the region’s most prominent opponent.

“We, the countries in this region, should work together to achieve our goals. Many issues can be resolved in a bilateral manner, “she stated.

Bangladesh has proposed strengthening the SAARC food bank in the wake of the global food crisis.

On Monday, the recommendation was made when visiting SAARC Secretary-General Esala Ruwan, where Weerakoon met with a few senior officials from the foreign ministry.

M Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the idea of strengthening the SAARC food bank emphasizes the necessity for a coordinated effort among regional countries to absorb the shock of the current crisis.

“We have previously donated to the food bank and are willing to continue,” he said, noting that agricultural supplies are currently in short supply in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Bangladesh encouraged the SAARC to take new methods to alleviate the global food scarcity caused by the Ukraine war and the epidemic. He continued, “We have extended our assistance to Sri Lanka and are willing to assist further under the SAARC umbrella.”

In response to his meeting with the Secretary-General of the SAARC, he stated that the two decided to speed up collective measures to fight the region’s food and economic problems.

Sri Lanka expressed interest in importing potatoes from Bangladesh in March of this year, preferring the barter system.

Bangladesh urged the SAARC to adopt new approaches to address global food scarcity caused by the Ukraine conflict and pandemic. “We have extended our help to Sri Lanka and are eager to assist under the SAARC umbrella in the future,” he stated.

In reaction to his discussion with the SAARC Secretary-General, he declared that the two of them agreed to accelerate collaborative action to address the region’s food and economic concerns.

Earlier, Bangladesh provided $2.3 million in emergency medical supplies to Sri Lanka, experiencing its worst economic crisis since 1948, resulting in a shortage of food, gasoline, and other necessities. Dhaka had previously given Colombo $250 million as a currency swap. In addition, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Health Minister Zahid Maleque presented a few cartons of pharmaceuticals to Sri Lankan High Commissioner and Bangladesh Sudharshan D.S. Seneviratne at a token handover ceremony in Dhaka.

Debt-ridden Sri Lanka said last month that it had pre-defaulted on a $51 billion external loan because its usable foreign exchange reserves had fallen to only $50 million, making it extremely difficult for the government to pay for crucial imports. India has also been delivering medical supplies as part of a $3 billion aid package this year.

As Dhaka and Colombo commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations, Momen hailed the delivery of 65 types of medications and equipment as a sign of solidarity and goodwill between the two countries. Bangladesh assists Sri Lanka in navigating its economic and humanitarian turmoil. It is praiseworthy that Bangladesh has been helping Sri Lanka to overcome its crisis. Other neighboring and south Asian countries can follow Bangladesh’s footprint. This type of assistance can help mitigate Sri Lanka’s looming catastrophe. 

For example, the SAARC food bank was established in 2007 to give rice and wheat to member countries in times of crisis, but it was only used for the first time in 2020 when Bhutan requested a rice shipment. According to analysts, Sri Lanka’s crisis could be an opportunity to reinvigorate SAARC.

This necessitates that all SAARC countries display the highest levels of goodwill, cooperation, and harmony toward one another while maximizing opportunities and collaboration. The SAARC, as a regional forum, should be revived by all member states as soon as possible. The Covid-19 pandemic and Sri Lanka’s crisis are the best examples to understand the necessity of a SAARC rebuild. All member states must try their best to revitalize the SAARC by holding consultations with each other. Bangladesh’s potato assistance to Sri Lanka necessitates reconstructing SAARC to prepare for future aid to other countries in South Asia.

Dr. Shakuntala Bhabani is a Kolkata-based educator (Assistant Professor) and Southasian affairs researcher in the Political Science department at Kolkata Honors College, India.

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