Recognizing the imperative to address poverty related issues and to suggest strategies and measures to alleviate poverty in the region, the SAARC Leaders at their Sixth Summit (Colombo, 1991) established an Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA). The Commission, while reporting to the Seventh Summit (Dhaka, 1993), provided a conceptual framework for poverty alleviation through social mobilization and empowerment in South Asia.
The Seventh Summit welcomed the report and expressed its commitment to eradicate poverty from South Asia through an agenda of action which would, inter-alia, include a strategy of social mobilization, and a policy of decentralized agricultural development, village reawakening, small-scale labour-intensive industrialization and human development. The Summit also stressed that within the conceptual approach of "Dhal-Bhaat"-the basic needs approach, the right to work and primary education should receive priority.
The Eighth SAARC Summit (New Delhi, 1995) approved the establishment of a Three-tier mechanism for dealing with poverty issues. The first-tier comprised the Secretaries to the governments concerned with poverty eradication and social development in SAARC countries. The second-tier comprised Finance/Planning Secretaries and the third-tier comprised Finance/Planning Ministers. By January 1996, the first round of meetings under the three-tier mechanism was completed.
The Tenth SAARC Summit in Colombo (July 1998) noted that human resources development is a key element in any poverty eradication programme. The Summit thus directed the SAARC Human Resources Development Centre in Islamabad to look into the possibility of its contributing to the strengthening of the human resources development component of regional poverty eradication programmes.
At the Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, 4-6 January 2002), the Leaders felt that the widespread and debilitating poverty continued to be the most formidable developmental challenge for the region. The Leaders made a review of the SAARC activities aimed at poverty alleviation and decided to reinvigorate them in the context of the regional and global commitments to poverty reduction.
The Leaders expressed their firm resolve to combat the problem of poverty with a new sense of urgency by actively promoting the synergetic partnership among national governments, international agencies, the private sector and the civil society. They agreed to take immediate steps for the effective implementation of the programs for social mobilization and decentralization, and for strengthening institution building and support mechanisms to ensure participation of the poor, both as stake-holders and beneficiaries, in governance and the development process.
The Summit reconstituted the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA) with Nepal as its Convenor and Bangladesh as Co-Convenor. It decided that a meeting at the ministerial level on poverty alleviation should undertake a comprehensive review of existing poverty alleviation policies and programmes by activating three-tier mechanism for poverty alleviation. Accordingly, the SAARC Finance/Planning Ministers, in their Meeting held in Islamabad on 8-9 April 2002 prepared a “Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation”. Some of the key points and emphasis in the Plan of Action are as follows:
The Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, January 2004) endorsed the Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation. The Leaders reiterated their commitment to undertake effective and sustained poverty reduction programmes through pro-poor growth strategies and other policy interventions with specific sectoral targets.
Subsequently, the Council of Ministers at its Twenty-third Session held in Kathmandu in August 2002 recognized poverty alleviation as the over-arching goal of SAARC for which a concerted, sustained and collective action was required. At the Twelfth Summit, the Leaders declared poverty alleviation as the overarching goal of all SAARC activities.
At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit, the Leaders declared the decade of 2006-2015 as the SAARC Decade of Poverty Alleviation. They further decided that during the Decade, endeavours, both at the national and regional levels, would continue to be made with a sense of commitment and urgency to free South Asia from poverty.
At the Thirteenth Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005), the Heads of State / Government underlined the need for an exclusive forum for focused and comprehensive examination of poverty related issues. They decided to replace the three-tier mechanism on poverty alleviation by a two-tier one, comprising the Ministers and the Secretaries dealing with poverty alleviation at the national level.
Pursuant to the decision, and at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka, the First Meeting of Secretaries dealing with the Poverty Alleviation was held in Colombo on 6-7 August 2006. This was followed by a Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation on 8 August 2006.
The Meetings took note of the important regional initiatives and directives of the Leaders at their recent Summits. The Ministerial Meeting agreed that the Member States would incorporate the SDG targets and goals in their respective planning process. It was further agreed to initiate national level consultations to obtain views of the stakeholders and practitioners to formulate specific targets and indicators for the SDGs.
The Meetings agreed activities and programmes to be undertaken for effective observance of the SAARC Decade on Poverty Alleviation (2006-2015). It also agreed to develop pilot project(s), at least one per country, in the area of poverty alleviation. Identification and implementation of regional and sub-regional projects on poverty alleviation would remain a high priority during the Decade.
The First Meeting of the Secretaries dealing with Poverty Alleviation (Colombo, 6-7 August 2006) underscored the need for policy prioritization for better utilization of the budgetary resources so as to have the desired impact on poverty reduction in this important decade. It agreed that sustained efforts were needed, inter alia, to: (a) deepen pro-poor orientation of growth process; (b) enhance investment in human capital; (c) increase investment in infrastructure; and (d) improve service delivery mechanism. It further recommended that the Member States would try to ensure higher public sector investment in education, health, agriculture and rural development in terms of GDP. Resource mobilization of achieving SDGs would remain a high priority. The Meeting agreed that policy attention should be given to better involve local governments in the poverty alleviation projects.
The Meeting inter alia recommended to:
At the Fourteenth Summit (New Delhi, 3-4 April 2007), the Leaders appreciated the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA) for its elaboration of the SAARC Development Goals (SDGs). They agreed that the national plans for poverty alleviation should appropriately mirror the regional consensus reached in the form of the SDGs and the Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation.
Deciding that resource mobilization for achieving the SDGs would remain a high priority in the Decade of Poverty Alleviation, the Leaders directed translation of the highest regional level political commitment into action for creating opportunities for productive employment and greater access to resources for the poor that are essential for them to enhance their livelihood and realize their potentials. They entrusted the Two-tier Mechanism on Poverty Alleviation to monitor the progress and fine-tune the approaches towards pro-poor growth process.
The Second Meeting of Secretaries dealing with Poverty Alleviation (Male’, 26 May 2008) agreed that there should be a Mid-Term Review on the attainment of the SDGs by an inter-governmental mechanism in 2009. The meeting appreciated UNDP for its continued financial support to implement the SAARC activities since 1995. They took satisfaction over the collaboration between the SAARC and UNDP and recommended that the Secretariat may consult the UNDP to obtain its support, among other things on the (1) Identification of the regional and sub-regional projects and initiating feasibility studies of them and (ii) Preparation of the RPP – 2009. The Ministers reiterated stronger commitment and determination to implement the SAARC Action Plan on Poverty Alleviation through mobilizing human as well as financial resources.
At the Fifteenth Summit (Colombo, 2-3 August 2008), the Leaders while acknowledging the significant steps taken to alleviate poverty in the region, resolved to continue to combat poverty through all available means, including especially through people's empowerment. They committed themselves to continuing to share each other's experiences and success stories of pro-poor poverty reduction strategies such as micro-credit systems, community-driven initiatives and the raising of the consciousness of the poor on their right to resources and development. In this respect, they emphasized on undertaking sustained efforts, including developing and implementing regional and sub-regional projects towards the attainment of SAARC Development Goals (SDGs). They noted the decision by the Ministers on Poverty Alleviation to obtain an inter-governmental mid-term review of the attainment of the SDGs to be completed by 2009.
The Leaders at the Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010) emphasized on deepening regional efforts on poverty alleviation, the overarching objective of SAARC. They called for the expeditious mainstreaming of the SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) in the national processes and completion of the Mid-term Review of the SDGs as scheduled. They further noted the useful finding and recommendations made by successive regional studies through the Regional Poverty Profiles (RPPs) and directed the relevant SAARC mechanisms to act on them. In this regard, they welcomed the offer of the Government of Nepal to host the Third Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation in 2011.
Third Meeting of Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation was held in New Delhi on 19-21 March 2009. The Meeting recognized that the Member States have made significant progress despite facing formidable challenges posed by poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, environmental degradation compounded by fluctuation in the fuel price and recent financial crisis. The meeting emphasized that the Member States should re-dedicate their commitments and re-double their endeavours to improve the living standards of the people through adopting poverty reduction programmes and projects specially targeted to uplift the poor. The Meeting also agreed to take special policy measures to minimize the impact of the financial downturn in the region.
The Meeting agreed that Member States should pursue people-centred growth and development strategies, and earmark substantial budget to invest in the development of human resource, rural infrastructure, education and health.
The Meeting recommended that the SAARC Secretariat may continue to cooperate with the UNDP for organizing regional and sub-regional workshops on the themes relevant to the SAARC Development Goals.
The Fourth Meeting of Secretaries of Poverty Alleviation was held in Islamabad, Pakistan on 28-29 March 2011. The Meeting discussed the progress made so far in SAARC Member States in implementing the SAARC ‘Poverty Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation’ and exchanged information on poverty reduction programmes, policies and strategies adopted by the Member States to improve the lot of the poor. It was decided that the SAARC Secretariat would prepare and circulate a compendium of best practices and success stories of various poverty alleviation programmes implemented in the recent past in the SAARC Member States, with special reference to innovative ideas for bringing about equality in the distribution of social benefits for reaching the un-reached. The Meeting also recommended that during the remaining period of SAARC Poverty Alleviation Decade (2006-2015) the Member States should undertake; (a) Result-based evaluation study of the outcomes of poverty alleviation programmes through independent agencies (b) organize workshops for having consultations on measuring multi-dimensional poverty; and (c) prepare a country document on success stories of local level initiatives towards poverty issues.
The Meeting also underscored the need to prepare country reports on Mid-term Review of the SAARC Development Goals as early as possible so that its findings could be submitted for consideration by the SAARC Ministers of Poverty Alleviation who would be meeting in the second half of 2011 in Nepal. A Meeting of Inter-Governmental Mechanism for Mid-Term Review on the Achievements of the SDGs and Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation was held at the SAARC Secretariat on 28-29 September 2010. The SAARC Secretariat would prepare the Regional Poverty Profile-2009-10 on the theme ‘Food Security Challenges for the Poor and Social Inclusion’ after receiving country reports from SAARC Member States before the Seventeenth SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Maldives in November this year. The First Meeting for the preparation of Regional Poverty Profile 2009-2010 was held at the SAARC Secretariat on 6-7 October 2010 to finalise the general framework of the Report.