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New regional bloc in pipeline as Saarc summit kicks off

TNN Nov 10, 2011, 05.56PM IST

KATHMANDU: Even as the 17th Saarc Summit kicked off in Maldives on Thursday with the heads of the eight member states discussing greater regional cooperation, the formation of a new bloc was in the pipeline with the realisation that the geopolitics of the region was a deterrent to a fast resolution of major pressing problems.

Now India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan are going to come together through yet another summit in Thimphu nine days later to try to thrash out a collective plan to adapt to climate changes and mitigate its fallouts, especially on the eastern Himalayas, regarded as the water towers of Asia and the fountainheads of some of the world's greatest rivers.

The Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas, to be hosted by Bhutan, will bring together leaders from the governments of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and its own government as well as representatives of civil society and academia to agree on a regional framework of cooperation for adaptation to climate change. The summit has four basic themes: securing the bio-diversity in the eastern Himalayas and its southern areas that are home to 10,000 plant and 300 mammal species, securing the natural freshwater systems of the Himalayas, and ensuring energy and food security.

Supported by the World Bank, UN Development Programme, World Wildlife Fund, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, and the MacArthur Foundation, the summit hopes to find a common position among the four countries so that they can present an allied face at international climate conferences, like the upcoming COP-17 to be held in Durban from Nov 28.

However, despite the realisation that the mountains are the most directly and acutely affected by climate change, the politics of distrust and other considerations may cast a shadow over the summit, like they have over Saarc. Though three of the greatest Asian rivers - the Indus, Brahmaputra and Mekong - originate from China-controlled Tibet and the Indus flows through Pakistan as well, these two countries have not been included in the summit, giving rise to criticism.

Krishna Gyawali, secretary at Nepal's environment ministry, tried to allay the criticism on Thursday saying that the Living Himalayas summit was only a beginning and that other countries could gradually be included as the framework of a regional action plan unfolded. Keeping in mind the vulnerability of mountainous countries Nepal itself will host a climate summit in summer 2012, the official said.

Like earlier Saarc Summits, which saw some of the heads of state pulling out due to political differences, the Bhutan climate summit is also politically vulnerable with the heads of the four states yet to confirm their participation. Gyawali said it would be decided if Nepal's Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai would attend the summit - only 11 days ahead of a critical constitutional deadline in Nepal - after he returned from the Saarc Summit on Nov 12.

Though Bhutan is the host, the summit had to be postponed by almost over a month since the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, chose the October dates decided on for the Himalayas meet to hold his wedding to commoner Jetsun Pema at short notice, making the summit schedule go haywire.

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