Since the pandemic began, SAARC has pursued increased cooperation that has produced tangible benefits. Leaders from member states have met at least twice over teleconference, also creating an emergency fund of over $18 million. India pledged $10 million to the fund; Sri Lanka gave $5 million; Bangladesh gave $1.5 million; Nepal and Afghanistan donated $1 million each. SAARC also set up a website to track developments and official case numbers across the entire region; the organisation has also discussed creating integrated a surveillance portal and coordinating of research. Remarkably, this has all taken place in a relatively inactive bloc: SAARC’s 15 March teleconference was its first high-level meeting since 2014. The leaders of seven countries attended, while Pakistan was represented by its prime minister, and the meeting was made available live on both YouTube and television throughout the region.
On 26 March, senior health professionals from every SAARC country met by videoconference and agreed that India would both share online training techniques for emergency responders and set up a surveillance platform to help neighbouring countries manage the outbreak. What’s more, in response to the pandemic, the many South Asian countries have started to remove tariffs on medical devices, protective gear, disinfectants, and soap––something the region has long-needed. India has also sent 40,000 masks and other medical equipment to Italy, one of the hardest hit nations, as well as 30,000 masks and other protective gear to Bangladesh. Indeed, as the World Bank recently wrote: “Short-term collaboration to fight the pandemic could bring longer-term benefits by strengthening regional institutions, improving regional infrastructure and connectivity” in South Asia.
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