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Parliaments of S Asia must work jointly

Speakers' Summit in Dhaka stresses poverty-free region

Collaboration between the national parliaments is crucial to advancing a poverty-free South Asia in pursuance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Speakers of South Asian countries said yesterday at a summit in the city.   

The parliaments have the vital role to play to help achieve the sustainable and inclusive development goals by making required laws, allocating budget and holding the governments accountable, they said. 

The Speakers also stressed the need to conserve the environment to make any development sustainable.

“Regional cooperation is essential to underpin sustainable development in South Asia,” said Jigme Zangpo, Speaker of the Bhutan national assembly Tshogdu.

“We need to redefine and rejuvenate our cooperation for a happy South Asia with 1.7 billion people,” he added.  

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad and Washington-based non-profit organisation Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids jointly organised the two-day South Asian Speakers' Summit on achieving SDGs.   

Sumitra Mahajan, Speaker of India's Lok Sabha, said the summit is aimed at improving the life of all people in the region with dignity and equal benefits of the SDGs.

“But development without nurturing the environment is not sustainable… no development is a development without a human face,” she added.

Finding commonalities and working through differences should be the goals of regional parliaments and governments, said Jatiya Sangsad Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury.  

Protection of environment and maintaining economic growth should go hand in hand, she observed. 

The SDGs would be of great help in achieving the poverty-free dignified life in South Asia that is home to the world's 40 percent poor and 30 percent hungry people, said Dr Nagesh Kumar, head of South and South-West Asia of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).     

But sustainability, inclusiveness and reducing inequality are some critical challenges for achieving the SDGs in South Asia, where Millennium Development Goals are still an unfinished agenda, he noted. 

Echoing the views of his regional colleagues on the important role of the legislatives in translating the SDGs into realities, Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, Speaker of the Maldives' Majlis, said high prevalence of tobacco consumption remains a potential barrier to sustainable development.

The United Nations in September last year adopted 17 SDGs, with 169 targets for 2016-2030 period for achieving a poverty-free dignified life for all.

Over 95,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases each year in Bangladesh, according to an information handout circulated at the summit. 

Each year, about 1.2 million illnesses related to tobacco consumption occur in Bangladesh. The diseases include lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, coronary artery diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In 2004, the country lost three percent of its GDP as Tk 51 billion was spent on treating tobacco-related diseases. On the other hand, productivity loss from tobacco consumption was worth Tk 59 billion.

Over 41 million adult people in Bangladesh at present consume tobacco in smoking and smokeless forms, said the handout.      

According to the summit concept note, the global development goals under the SDGs have included a target to fight non-communicable diseases which account for 38 million deaths every year.

Tobacco remains a leading cause of the common non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular and lungs diseases, cancer and diabetes.    

As per the note, the estimated total number of tobacco users in seven South Asian countries is 384 million, which accounts for over a third of the total tobacco users in the world.

Speaker of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi also spoke, among others, with the IPU President Saber Hossain Chowdhury in the chair.