By Laxman Kafle Kathmandu, May 6: Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Paudel has said that the economic scenario in the near future is challenging due to the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. ‘The path to inclusive and sustainable economic recovery is hampered by the extensive impact of the COVID-19. The economic outlook remains challenging in the near future, despite efforts to keep the economy in track,” he said while addressing an informal meeting of SAARC finance ministers Wednesday. On the occasion of the 54th Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank, a meeting of SAARC Finance Ministers and Heads of Delegations was held virtually. The meeting was chaired by Finance Minister Paudel. Stating that the second wave of COVID-19 had created a big hurdle as the economic recovery process was moving forward as expected, Finance Minister Paudel said that it had seriously affected tourism, other services and manufacturing sectors. “The extended impact of COVID-19 seems to be reflected in the massive reduction in income and employment, the decline in business and the slowdown in demand,” he said, adding, “it has also added challenges to our efforts for inclusive growth, human development and poverty alleviation. As the poorest and most vulnerable groups are more affected, we still have the risk of widening the gap of inequality,” he said. Stating that the COVID-19 continues to plague the overall health, education and prosperity of human life, he said that global unity, collective efforts and cooperation are essential to save lives and livelihoods. Expressing the view that it is necessary to ensure the safety of all people in all parts of the world, Finance Minister Paudel expressed confidence that life-saving vaccines would be considered as one of the most essential commodities in the world at such a critical time of public health. He also said that all countries could easily access and purchase vaccine supplies. Expressing gratitude to the government of India for the production and supply of vaccines against COVID-19, Finance Minister Paudel expressed the view that it had made possible the efforts to expedite the vaccination campaign within the SAARC region. Stating that the time has come for all of us to work together with common goals and objectives to make the pace of economic recovery sustainable, Finance Minister Paudel said that necessary policies and strategies should be formulated together to facilitate economic activities better than in the past by focusing more on job creation and domestic production. Saying that the SAARC region has a lot of potential to achieve regional prosperity through deep interconnection between market and economy, he hoped that economic recovery could be achieved in a short period of time. Finance Minister Paudel thanked the Asian Development Bank for providing financial and technical assistance to developing member countries in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and economic development. The meeting was addressed by Finance Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Khalid Payenda, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of Bangladesh Mohammad Khairujaman Mozumdar, Director General of Economic Affairs of Bhutan Lekzang Dorji, Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs of India Ajay Seth and Finance Minister of Maldives Ibrahim Amir. Similarly, Additional Finance Secretary of Pakistan’s Finance Department Awais Manzur Sumrajya, Sri Lankan Minister of State for Currency and Capital Markets and Public Institution Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Vice President of the Asian Development Bank Shixin Chen addressed the gathering. SAARC Secretary General Isala Ruwan Weerakoon and Yasuki Sawda, Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank’s Department of Economic Research and Regional Cooperation, gave separate presentations on COVID-19 on Economic Recovery: Inclusive and Emerging Economic Growth. The Finance Ministers and the Heads of Delegations stressed on the need for mutual assistance in mitigating the effects of COVID-19 and economic and social revival.