Uniting to combat COVID-19 (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, growth prospects for the world’s fastest-growing region, South Asia, appear grim.
- In April, the World Bank predicted that growth in the region would be 1.8%-2.8% this year.
- Governments in South Asian countries have responded in varying degrees to counter the health and economic crises.
- India resumed its economic activities on a limited scale following a strict lockdown imposed in late March and lasting through April.
- Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did the same after an extended lockdown.
- Bhutan and the Maldives have managed to largely contain community transmission and avoid prolonged lockdowns due to a higher testing rate.
- This is consistent with the hypothesis that countries that have conducted more tests have been more successful in containing the pandemic.
- According to Worldometer, in South Asia, the Maldives has the highest number of tests per million population followed by Bhutan.
- Countries facing a surge in cases, such as India, could have flattened the curve by increasing the number of tests.
- India has the second largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world (over 55 lakh) after the U.S. Bangladesh has around 3.5 lakh cases.
- Surprisingly, unlike other regions, South Asian countries are experiencing a lower mortalityrate despite having a higher infection rate.
- Many have suggested that this could be due to the region’s tropical climate, protection offered by a tuberculosis vaccine (BCG), exposure to malaria, and a weaker strain of the virus.
- However, epidemiological studies and the World Health Organization’s reviews have been sceptical about the hypotheses which leave out one plausible explanation — the concern over data reliability.
- Many have suggested that in a region that houses one-fourth of the global population and one-third of the global poor, many COVID-19 deaths might have gone unnoticed, unreported or even under-reported.
The efficacy of state responses:
- While India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives have unveiled stimulus packages, the rest are yet to announce any concrete support for their low income and lower-middle income population still suffering from the economic fallout of the crisis.
- In late March, India announced a $22.5 billion relief package to ensure food security and cash transfers to save the livelihoods of an estimated 800 million people living in poverty.
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slashed the repo and reverse repo rate to create liquidity for businesses.
- In early April, Bangladesh announced a stimulus package worth about $8 billion in addition to an earlier $595 million incentive package for export-oriented industries.
- In late March, Pakistan unveiled a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package of $6.76 billion. Its central bank also slashed the interest rate.
- In late April, the Maldives government mobilised a $161.8 million emergency fund.
- It also announced a short-term financing facility for the tourism industry.
- Sri Lanka signed an agreement with the RBI for a currency swap worth $400 million to support domestic financial stability.
- In late February, the Afghan government allocated about $25 million to fight COVID-19. In addition, a $100.4 million grant was approved by the World Bank in April to Afghanistan.
- Although countries like India and Bangladesh announced financial and material stimulus packages, distribution concerns remain unaddressed.
- For instance, the Open Market Sale in Bangladesh appears ineffective as there is no physical distancing and, in some instances, there is political tampering and poor governance.
- In India, the announcement of the lockdown gave citizens less than four hours to prepare.
- Hoarding of supplies caused a shortage in the market. The lockdown disrupted supply chains. It was a similar situation in Nepal and Pakistan.
- Leaders of the region need to look beyond narrow geopolitical rivalry and come together to work towards a well-coordinated response mechanism.
- A SAARC COVID-19 fund was created following Indian Prime Minister’s call to South Asian leaders, but governments are yet to decide on its modus operandi.
- The region could leverage its existing institutional framework under the umbrella of SAARC to effectively respond to the crisis.
- For instance, SAARC Food Banks could be activated to tackle the imminent regional food crisis, and the SAARC Finance Forum can be activated to formulate a regional economic policy response.
- If leaders of the region can’t rise to the occasion even when faced with a common problem that is claiming lives, putting millions out of jobs and crippling economies, when will they?
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Q.1) With reference to the beads found in the Indus Valley Civilisation, consider the followingstatements:
(1) The beads were made of steatite and lapis lazuli.
(2) The factories of beads were found at Rakhigarhi and Lothal.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Q.1)Have the governments in South Asia announced stimulus package?What are the key concerns in this reason to combat with COVID 19