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THE SOUTH Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) ratified the setting up of a technical committee on environment at its July 8-9 foreign ministers' meet in Colombo. This gives permanent status to the ad hoc committee set up in November last to examine the recommendations of the SAARC secretariat report on "The Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Preservation and Protection of the Environment" in South Asia.
The permanent committee will concretise, through specific programmes, the 13 recommendations of the South Asian report accepted by the ad hoc committee at its first and only meeting held in Dhaka last February.
Two of the recommendations not accepted concern water. The South Asian report had called for a SAARC programme on international river basins and urged greater cooperation in improving water management and water sharing among the riparian member-states. The second recommendation had called for the establishment of a research programme to examine traditional water harvesting systems in South Asia.
As India did not accept the recommendations on water, the matter was referred to the ad hoc committee for review. Explains Navrekha Sharma, joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs, "India already has a bilateral agreement on water sharing with Bangladesh and we did not see why SAARC should come into the picture."
Other SAARC members, also chary of placing regional interests over national ones, urged that a number of other recommendations be dropped. These related to the establishment of a regional network on dryland research and agroforestry systems, which would have examined the problem of drought in a regional context. The members also objected to the setting up of a regional information exchange system on managing human activities in disaster-prone areas.
A number of other recommendations were dropped after considering time and personnel constraints as well as the financial implications. Thus, suggestions to set up a SAARC network of environmental non-governmental organisations and another to facilitate exchange of information on women, children and the environment were dropped.
Among the 13 recommendations finally accepted was one which sought to strengthen environment management infrastructure by developing standards and regulations across the region. The need for developing appropriate land, livestock, biomass and water systems for arid, semi-arid, mountainous and flood-prone areas was also highlighted.
The committee suggested that joint research and regional action programmes be conceived to conserve the Himalayan eco-system, which would complement the work being done at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
The recommendations also called for a coastal zone programme and a SAARC forestry and watershed programme. Under the forestry programme, measures to tackle problems such as forest fires and shifting cultivation were put forward.
On the critical issue of pollution control and hazardous waste management, the panel recommended the development of appropriate technology transfer mechanisms. The panel has called for moves to promote trade in environment-related technologies.
The committee also urged the setting up of appropriate mechanisms for funding high-priority programmes. Specific programmes will be finalised at a special meeting scheduled to be held later this year.