"Eradication of abject poverty is the utmost necessity to affirm social justice and lasting peace"

(Press statement declared on 5th January 2002 in Kathmandu)

On the occasion of the 11th Summit of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) in Kathmandu, Nepal from 4 to 6 January 2002, the members of the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) call upon the Heads of States or Governments gathered here to renew their commitments for promoting the welfare of the people of South Asia, particularly the excluded, the poor, the marginalised, and all those who do not have access to basic health care, basic education, shelter and fundamental rights. The tasks of eradicating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, tackling environmental degradation and food insecurity need to be jointly addressed. As members of social movements and organisations working for the development through empowerment of the people living in poverty, we urge SAARC members to implement the commitments of their governments and bring at a regional level increased serious and meaningful cooperation for eradicating poverty and eliminating social injustice. In this context, we share with you our statement of concern and purpose as follows;

Senior development workers, social movement leaders, leading academics and concerned citizens from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka came together to discuss critical issues of poverty eradication, to strategise about ways to create more just societies within the region, and to plan for serious regional cooperation. This meeting was held in Kathmandu, Nepal, and was a follow-up to the earlier South Asian Civil Society Conference held in September 2000 at Manesar, Haryana, India.# The Kathmandu meeting resolved to establish a regional Alliance for collective work on poverty eradication. This statement was adopted as the basis for future action together in the newly formed South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication.

The Alliance members share the views that governments of the region have a responsibility to ensure that all of their citizens have basic human rights to life and livelihood. The State collects taxes from the people, and has a direct responsibility to provide affordable quality education, health services, food security, etc. The State should not only confine its role to regulating the freedom of the marketplace; nor should the state abdicate its role by handing over the responsibility for providing social services to the private sectors, NGOs and other civil society actors. The state, with honesty, sincerity, economy, and simplicity must play its rightful and historical role in the countries of the region.

In addition, the members reject the dominant development thinking which dictates that the best way to get the best life for the largest number of people is to promote a globalised world economy marked by "free trade", liberalisation and privatisation. In the region of South Asia, we know that this approach to development causes hardship and misery to many people living in our region. We believe that Alternative Development Approaches will better serve the people of South Asia. We commit ourselves supporting to discover, define, and disseminate these approaches, evolved through listening to, learning from and working with the people of our countries.

Members of the Alliance will continue to work with people living in poverty, urging their national governments to review and implement their commitments to the eradication of all forms of poverty which result in marginalisation. At the same time, members of the Alliance feel that some of the major problems faced by people living in conditions of poverty are particularly accentuated by globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. These cannot be solved in isolation from other countries in the region. The members of the Alliance from various civil society organisations have agreed to build and strengthen alliances around common issues.

Alliance members underscore the grave crises that mark the entire region – 

  • growing numbers of people living in conditions of extreme poverty,
  • skewed development policies leading to large scale displacements of poor people,
  • mass migration increasing the fragility of rural based populations, particularly landless labourers and poor peasants,
  • the escalating violence faced by women living in abject poverty,
  • the declining social sector expenditures by governments,
  • the increasing costs of militarisation,
  • the acute distress of large masses of people neglected by unresponsive governments implementing distorted agenda of development priorities,
  • severely endangered food security aggravated by multinational companies acquiring patent rights over our bio-diversity,
  • the dismantling of government food security systems in the name of privatisation,
  • forced and exploited labour,
  • escalating communalism and fundamentalism which are undermining the people's struggles to address the root causes of poverty,
  • the people's right to information not being uniformly available in the region,
  • social conflict within countries resulting from state and other systemic suppression over people. People raise their voices about real problems, and the State does not listen to them, resulting in frustration, and violence in society,
  • governments not addressing the structural causes of poverty,
  • escalating numbers of refugees in the region, and
  • extremely high national debt as a result of international financial institutional borrowing, etc. 

Members of the alliance call on governments in all countries of the region to implement genuine agrarian reforms, to put in place mechanisms to ensure profitable prices for all peasants and to initiate rural development policies which would provide further food securities to those living in poverty and deprivation.

Members of the Alliance call for the governments of the region to protect the People's Rights over natural resources- land, water, forest, minerals, shrubs and herbs. The bio-diversity of the region must be protected for local people.

To address the problems of landless labourers and poor peasants, the Alliance Members call for a campaign against the use of every kind of forced and bonded labour, and at the same time, for a campaign for Minimum Wages to all informal sector workers, especially agriculture labourers - both men and women.

Women living in poverty in all the countries of the region are facing high degrees of exploitation, both in terms of denial of their rights as citizens, their exclusion from political participation, and also in terms of property rights. Trafficking in women and children has increased and it is alarming to note the lack of sensitiveness to this issue. Forced violence against women even extends to "honour killings", "dowry deaths", and female foeticides in the region, leading to alarming decline in female to male sex ratio. Governments must act to protect and empower vulnerable women. Active steps must be taken to stop these practices.

Various religious and social factors and an overall situation of patriarchy prevent women's participation, decision making and equal rights, including access and control over property and resources. These can only be addressed through legal reform, and changes in resource allocation. Also, when there are more opportunities and space for women to improve their situations, women themselves will act. Governments should take effective and efficient actions to implement all International Conventions and Covenants ratified by them, such as CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) to protect and promote the fundamental rights of women.

Attention of governments is also drawn to the need to eradicate child labour and to provide compulsory free basic education. Likewise, concrete actions need to be taken to materialise the vision of signed International Conventions such as CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child). 

Debt payments are a crippling feature of the economies of the region. They are a result of the pressures of Globalised Economic Policies, and are one of the causes of continuing poverty. Members call for the immediate and unconditional Cancellation of Debt in the countries of South Asia, and governments are urged to divert the resources that would be used for debt payment, to women and children's health, education, socio-economic empowerment, drinking water, and subsidies for farm inputs and food security.

In order to address the plight of refugees, negotiations are needed to facilitate repatriation, refugees returning to their countries with dignity and honour, without fear of persecution. Further, the repatriation of refugees is important in addressing the impoverishment that results for the citizens of the countries in the region that house refugees.

Alliance members urge governments to address in a timely planned way the fundamental causes of social conflicts with multiple strategies involving local people so that such conflicts can be prevented from escalating into violence.

The South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication and its members are committed to undertake the following roles and responsibilities:

  • monitor national governments in their performance to implement their commitments,
  • resist anti-poor policies, be they economic, social, political or environmental,
  • encourage regional development cooperation amongst the governments of the region, as well as amongst non-state actors,
  • develop strategies which create space for people's initiatives and support people's struggles for reinstating social justice, recognising the specific and different contexts of marginalised groups,
  • facilitate alliances in the region and support existing networks, to work on strategies that could effectively change and combat the harmful economic policies of corporate globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation which cause increasing poverty in the region,
  • develop common strategies that make governments, states, and local authorities accountable and responsive to people's needs and aspirations,
  • establish regional dialogue with the European Union, and other international bodies and networks, both state and civil society ones that can be seen as allies in the struggle to control and change strong international actors who are causing impoverishment in the region - indeed, in the world,
  • set up a "People for Peace" initiative in the region to work towards peace in the region. This will include influencing governments to reduce defence expenditures, and
  • incorporate "Community Media" for communicating and informing about technology, success stories of differing communities and people's initiatives within the region.

The times call for joint resistance to external interventions that harm equitable distribution of resources within countries. All development policies, plans and budget exercises need a people's audit so that the planning process may be owned by the people living in the areas.

Civil and political rights essentially fortify people's access to economic, social and cultural rights. Social justice is under siege and people's organisations have indeed shown success in realising constitutional rights, as a result of their field and policy interventions.

South-South and South-North exchanges and alliances strengthen social actions, and are necessary in these complex economic and social times. Therefore, the members of the Alliance present in Kathmandu invite all like-minded social development organisations and movements in South Asia to join, and propose a system of affiliation for supporters living outside the region.

"Let us join hands to unitedly fight against poverty, hunger and social injustice" 

December 21, 2001

Kathmandu, Nepal