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South Asian nations discuss food bank to fight hunger
COLOMBO (Reuters) - South Asian foreign ministers discussed on Thursday details of an ambitious plan to fight hunger in the region, including building a common food grains reserve.
The ministers are meeting to set the stage for an Aug. 2-3 summit of South Asian leaders where their recommendations on food and energy security and terrorism will be adopted for action.
The proposals include building a food bank and regional buffer stocks that member countries can use in times of need.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said the summit would adopt a Colombo Statement on food security that will unveil several short and long term measures to tackle price rise.
"Pakistan and several others highlighted the need for a food bank and its need for early operalisation," he told reporters.
The leaders of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are also expected to take steps to invigorate the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement signed in 2004 but which came into effect only two years later.
SAARC represents around a fifth of humanity and remains one of the world's poorest regions, amid rising prices of commodities and basic food stuffs globally.
"The ministers are discussing modalities of repayment and also details of storing and transporting," an SAARC standing committee member told Reuters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
"The initial reserve of the food bank could be around 240,000 metric tonnes."
SAARC was established in 1985 by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan became the eighth member in 2007.
The grouping was formed to foster economic development in the region but old rivalries among members have blocked progress for the group.
Its perceived failure to take off despite many summits has been traced to mistrust and animosity between its two biggest members, India and Pakistan, whose rivalry dates back to their independence in 1947.
The two countries' uneasy ties, particularly over disputed Kashmir, still undermine greater regional cooperation.
Bogollagama said the SAARC foreign ministers would recommend cooperation in the sectors of energy, climate change and combating terrorism.
"Bangladesh highlighted the need for having coordinated intra-SAARC military cooperation," he said.
"There was unanimous acceptance of the need to combat terrorism on a priority basis throughout the region."
He said the SAARC heads of state would sign an agreement on mutual legal assistance on crimlnal matters.
"It is a landmark mission that will help SAARC countries to combat and eradicate terrorism," he said.
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