In 1969, when UNDP was established in its current form, the world was a different place from the one we see today. It was one dominated by two superpowers, with many countries in Africa and Asia slowly emerging from colonialism to take charge of their own destinies after decades or centuries of external rule. The global aid system evolved in this context, one in which richer countries of the Global North extended grants, loans, goods and expertise to poorer countries of the Global South.
Today, nearly 50 years on, we inhabit a very different world. Although poverty, deprivation and inequality remain profound challenges, the countries of the Global South are rising, and their profound contributions to human and economic development are finally being recognized. Some, such as China, have seen dizzying economic growth. From being one of the poorest countries in the world during the 1960s, South Korea is now one of the richest. Bangladesh has reduced its child mortality rate by 73 percent in 25 years.
In this context, the older model of assistance to poorer countries as they progress along the path to development is no longer relevant. Instead, today, the model of South-South Cooperation lies at the heart of a global movement towards sustainable development that benefits all. Indeed, South-South Cooperation is recognized as fundamental to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as global commitments related to climate change.
Countries in the Global South – from Pakistan to Peru and from China to Chad – possess resources, expertise and the potential for trade, investment and cooperation that can potentially yield unprecedented dividends in health and education, infrastructure, economies and climate change preparedness. For instance, Pakistan, as a pioneer in conducting climate public expenditure reviews, has, in the past, offered lessons from its experience to other countries embarking on this essential step towards public finance management that is informed by climate change. Another example with great potential is Chinese infrastructure investment through the Belt and Road initiative, which includes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan. This will build Chinese trade, while enhancing connectivity for 69 percent of the world’s population, and creating countless opportunities to develop local economies, services and human capacity. This can, potentially, be a win-win form of cooperation for the countries of the Global South.
As part of its efforts to help countries achieve the SDGs, UNDP has made a strategic commitment to help countries of the Global South share resources and expertise, and to collaborate to solve their development challenges. At the global level, UNDP is supporting channels for cooperation, including online solutions exchange platforms and networks of think tanks. In 2016, UNDP supported over 500 individual South-South Cooperation initiatives across 127 countries.
In Pakistan, UNDP embarked upon the “China South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund for the Recovery Project in FATA and Balochistan” earlier this year. This is a ground-breaking partnership between Pakistan, China and UNDP to help some of Pakistan’s most vulnerable communities establish strong foundations for a peaceful and prosperous future.
Through this collaboration, in FATA, 8,100 families returning home after years of displacement are provided assistance to re-establish their lives in the critical first months after return. With support from this fund, UNDP is distributing packages and construction supplies to the most vulnerable families, such as those headed by women or individuals with disabilities, so that they can settle in with reduced financial burdens and have the vital breathing space they need to re-establish sustainable livelihoods. In Balochistan, schools that had been damaged by flooding in 2010–2011 are being refurbished, giving 19,000 children the opportunity to receive an education. A parallel agreement between China and the World Food Programme is providing nutritional support to families in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, reducing malnutrition and food insecurity in areas where agricultural activity and trade have been badly affected by insecurity. In all these cases, drawing on China’s financial strength is enabling investments in the future of marginalized families in Pakistan.
The potential for South-South Cooperation to benefit Pakistan and its sister countries in the Global South is almost limitless. Sharing lessons and technical expertise from implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions will help communities across the world prepare for a warming planet. Many countries of the Global South are already pioneering low-carbon pathways that provide examples of best practice for other countries. And investments between countries of the Global South can benefit the economies of both. At a time when tendencies towards protectionism and isolationism are once more on the rise, such networks of collaboration between equal partners are essential if we are to address the challenges we all face, and to accelerate progress on the unprecedented trajectory of human development and economic growth experienced in recent decades.