Thukten Zangpo 

The SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Development Fund (SDF) celebrated the 39th SAARC Charter Day with its partners in Thimphu yesterday, commemorating the historic adoption of the SAARC Charter on December 8, 1985. 

This annual celebration, hosted by a specialised body that emerged from SAARC over 12 years ago, is the only SAARC organisation headquartered in Thimphu, Bhutan, alongside its partners.

Cabinet Secretary Kesang Deki, the chief guest, emphasised Bhutan’s commitment as a founding SAARC member and urged the region to embrace collaboration to address challenges and unlock the untapped potential of intraregional trade.

She added that the SAARC has faced challenges and celebrated successes together, showing the world that diversity can be a source of strength and harmony. “Our collective efforts have brought significant progress in various realms, creating a tapestry of achievements that span economic collaboration, social upliftment, cultural exchange, and tackling common issues like climate change.”

The Officer-In-Charge of SDF, Satya Shiva Saswat talked about the SDF’s commitment to promote regional integration and economic co-operation among the SAARC Member States through project funding and collaboration. 

The SDF has disbursed about USD 75 million with over 90 projects implemented across 15 thematic areas in SAARC member countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka). 

The projects are in health, education, agriculture, forestry, regional transport facilitation, water, sanitation, and hygiene sectors. 

The SDF also acknowledged its collaboration with government ministries, such as health, agriculture, and information and communications, of the member states and with reputed institutions and civil society organisations (Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Youth Development Fund, Tarayana Foundation, and SABAH Bhutan). 

According to SDF, it actively contributes to supporting livelihood initiatives for home-based workers, strengthening water sanitation, and hygiene services, integrated bamboo-based enterprise development, empowering women entrepreneurs, and facilitating regional transport connectivity.

SDF also stated that the region with a quarter of the global population with countries at various stages of development still grapples with food and energy security issues. 

At the same time, the impact of climate change manifests itself through GLOFs, cyclones, flash floods, and droughts, impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, particularly in the vulnerable region.  

From 2024, the SDF will address these challenges through a three-pronged approach.

Firstly, designing projects in collaboration with development partners, reputed research organisations and academia, which are crosscutting rather than sector-specific.  

This is expected to enable larger developmental impacts and can address the need for having robust climate resilient infrastructures.

Secondly, by switching over from a plain vanilla grant-based and concessional-based structure to a blended finance approach in tune with the developing pace of member states and play a catalytic role to attract private capital.

Thirdly, actively engaging with stakeholders to have a public-private-partnership model to implement development projects ensuring private sector participation and their reach to finance from SDF. 

“Joint ventures among private enterprises of member states in the region will pave the way for socioeconomic development and much needed employment generation for the talented youth in the region,” according to the SDF. 

The event was attended by the dignitaries, senior government officials, ambassadors, and stakeholders to celebrate the shared vision of South Asian nations for mutual understanding, friendship, and cooperation.