Nepal | June 02, 2020

EDITORIAL: Exemplary conference

The Himalayan Times
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Let Sunday’s conference be the start of stronger collaboration and bonhomie among the SAARC countries to revive their economies

In a show of rare solidarity, the eight countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have come together to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Setting aside the existing bitterness between some member states for the moment, heads of government of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka and the health minister of Pakistan took part in a video conference Sunday evening to exchange experiences in their fight against COVID-19. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be commended for taking the initiative to conduct the video conference with the SAARC members, and his initial offer of US$ 10 million for the COVID-19 Emergency Fund is most laudable. The fund can be used by any of the SAARC member states to bear the cost of any immediate action. PM Modi’s announcement to assemble a wellequipped rapid response team of doctors and specialists, to be placed at the disposal of the member states, is equally welcome and should go a long way in helping contain the virus.

The coronavirus, which is now a pandemic, has spread to 158 countries and territories and a cruise ship, infected at least 170,238 people and killed 6,526 as of Monday. Of those who have contracted the virus, 77,789 people have recovered. The South Asian region is at high risk of the virus, but so far it has not affected the SAARC countries the way it has China, South Korea, Europe and the United States. The region has so far seen only two deaths – in India – although the number of active cases is on the rise in the member states. But some countries of the region remain particularly vulnerable to an upsurge, such as Afghanistan, which has an open border with Iran that has already seen 724 deaths from the virus, the third largest number in the world. Nepal too shares a long open border with India, and an outbreak in one country could easily devastate the other country.

The coronavirus has made the leaders of the region sit up and realise that common efforts are needed to combat this pandemic before it engulfs us. As Indian PM Modi noted during the video conference, we can respond best by coming together, not growing apart; collaboration, not confusion; preparation, not panic. There is also need for collaboration on research and strong funding among the countries of the region to control other epidemics and take up critical health issues confronting us. But bitter bilateral relations between some nations of SAARC have hindered the region from exploiting its huge potential and making progress not only in the field of health but in different sectors of the economy as well, even as countries of other regional blocs develop by leaps and bounds. Let Sunday’s conference be the start of stronger collaboration and bonhomie among the SAARC countries to revive their economies through the promotion of intra-regional trade, investment, tourism and connectivity, as desired by Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. A SAARC summit now – it was last held in November 2014 – would enable the heads of the region to sit together and chalk out a plan of action for the broader development of the region.

Review fuel prices

Most of the gas stations in the Valley were closed on Sunday, in anticipation that Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) would slash fuel prices of petroleum products in view of their falling prices in the international market. Fuel prices have come crashing down to the lowest point after COVID-19, which was first detected in China last December, hit almost all the countries and territories hard, bringing the international business to a standstill. The gas stations refused to collect fuel from the NOC depots on Sunday, expecting the fuel prices to go down. The NOC often reviews the fuel prices on the first and 16th day of the English calendar.

As per the government policy, which was introduced years ago, the NOC has to review the price of fossil fuels in line with the price fluctuation in the international market. However, the NOC has not reviewed the prices although their prices have dropped sharply. Consumer rights activists have alleged that the dealers stayed away from collecting fuel after getting tips from the NOC that fuel prices were being reviewed. The unethical collusion between them is a gross violation of consumer rights. The NOC must abide by the rules and review fuel prices.

A version of this article appears in print on March 17, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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