The issue of environmental degradation served as the backdrop for discussions at this year's SAARC Festival of Literature held here from March 26 to 30, which was attended by writers, intellectuals and activists from the eight member nations.

Participants at the festival highlighted the immediate need to resolve the issue of environmental degradation and identified it as a common problem affecting the entire region. They also felt that as the intellectual ‘think-tank' of the region, writers and media persons held the responsibility to sensitise society about the threats posed by environmental degradation and the need to protect the planet and the happiness of humanity at large.

Eminent scholar and statesman, Dr. Karan Sigh, in his inaugural address at the conference highlighted the need for closer cooperation among SAARC countries for sorting out common problems and furthering mutual ties. Pakistani writer Hamid Mir also emphasised the need to put aside differences and disputes and to work together in order strengthen regional cooperation.

‘Delhi Declaration'

The conference concluded with the signing of the ‘Delhi Declaration' which was adopted in the concluding session. In the declaration it was agreed that the environmental situation in the region was at a critical stage and concrete steps should be taken to avoid the impending crisis.

The declaration also highlighted the fact that the environmental problems of the SAARC region were exclusive and different from those facing Western countries.

Soil erosion, deforestation and pollution of air and water were some of the key issues identified in the declaration that needed immediate attention. The gathering also criticized the displacement of tribal and indigenous people from forest lands and called for a united action to preserve the environmental health of the planet.

Ms. Ajeet Kaur, who headed the delegation from India, said that collectively the writers and intellectuals of the region should raise a “SAARC voice” in international environment fora.

The festival also witnessed the presentation of the SAARC Awards. The SAARC Lifetime Achievement award was given to Hamid Mir of Pakistan while Abhi Subedi of Nepal and Mark Tully of India were presented the SAARC Literary Award.

The SAARC Young Poet Award went to Rubana Haq from Bangladesh. This year a new category of awards was presented, called the SAARC Environment Awards, which were given to Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal, K. K. Muhammad and Baba Seva Singh for their meritorious services to the cause of environment and culture.

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