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UN: Rise of South “Unprecedented in Speed and Scale”

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 14 2013 (IPS) – The world’s 132 developing nations, largely part of the global South, are ascending at a pace “unprecedented in its speed and scale”, according to the latest Human Development Report (HDR) released Thursday by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

And “never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically, and so fast,” says Khalid Malik, lead author of the study and director of the HDR Office.

“Without doubt, the South’s three largest economies – China, India and Brazil – are driving forces in this phenomenon, due both to their sheer size and the recent speed of their overall human development progress,” he tells IPS.

By 2020, the combined economic output of the three leading developing countries alone will surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the United States, says the 203-page study.

And “much of this expansion is being driven by new trade and technology partnerships within the South itself,” according to the HDR.

China has already overtaken Japan as the world’s second biggest economy while lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

India is re-shaping its future with new entrepreneurial creativity and social policy innovation, while Brazil is lifting its living standards through expanding international relationships and anti-poverty programmes that are being emulated worldwide, says the HDR.

Still, out of 187 countries, five of the top achievers in the Human Development Index are all from the North: Norway, Australia, the United States, the Netherlands and Germany.

The bottom five are from the developing world: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger.

Rising living standards and education levels lead to greater expectations from, and demands on, governments.

Malik pointed out that the 2013 HDR identifies more than 40 developing countries – on all continents – that have performed much better than would have been predicted in HDI terms over the past two decades, with this progress accelerating notably in most since 2000, he added.

The study says the South is “developing at a pace unprecedented in human history, with hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty, and billions more poised to join a new global middle class.”

Asked if this phenomenon is largely confined to just the three leading countries while most developing nations are still lagging far behind in alleviating or eradicating poverty, Malik singled out the 40 countries categorised as being among the “human development high achievers”.

The 40 countries include Bangladesh, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Viet Nam and Uganda.

Malik said the HDR looks in greater detail at 18 of the 40 countries, and their paths to human development improvement.

He pointed out that the 2013 HDR also looks at the potentially highly positive impact of this phenomenon on today’s 47 least developed countries (described as the poorest of the poor), which include new markets, new sources of investment, better access to appropriate technologies, and, most important, many useful policy lessons.

“And while a number of low-income countries will miss their own national goals of halving extreme poverty by 2015, it is important to emphasise that the world as a whole has already met this target ahead of time, largely due to massive poverty eradication in many of the leading South nations since 1990,” he added.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: The rise of the global South includes countries such as Mexico, South Korea and Chile. But how do you justify their categorisation as part of the South when Mexico left the group of 77 developing nations to join the industrial world back in 1994, South Korea in 1996 and Chile in 2010? And do you still consider them part of the global South?

A: The terms “South” and “North” are used in the report to distinguish between the long-established advanced industrial nations (the latter) and more recently emerging economies.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, described as the rich man’s club)) does indeed include Mexico, South Korea, Chile and Turkey as well – all countries which belong nonetheless to the ‘South’ in that broad sense.

The geographical origins and connotations of the terms are of course inexact: Australia and New Zealand are rather counter-factually assigned to the ‘North’ for this purpose.

Q: The HDR takes a critical look at “global governance” – which includes multi-party democracy, human rights, transparency and accountability – as a political benchmark for the rise of the global South. If so, how do you account for the fact that China, considered by the West to be a non-democratic regime with the absence of rule of law and a free press, emerging as the world’s second biggest economy outranking Japan? Shouldn’t multi-party democracy be an integral part of economic progress in the South?

A: The 2013 report identifies more than 40 developing countries, China included, that have made remarkable human development gains in recent decades, with progress accelerating in the past 10 years. These countries represent a variety of national histories and evolving political systems. Most of these countries, though not all, would be characterised today as multi-party democracies.

The report argues strongly in favour of the importance of giving people a greater voice and opportunities for meaningful participation in civic life, which has long been central to the human development philosophy.

The report says further that rising living standards and education levels lead to greater expectations from, and demands on, governments, in terms of accountability, responsiveness, and effective delivery of social services.

The report also looks at the increasing importance of civil society in driving human development change in countries spotlighted in its ‘Rise of the South’ analysis.

That some East Asian and Latin American “developmental states” were not democracies in different stages of their development has prompted a misconception that the most effective developmental states are typically autocratic.

But evidence of the purported relationship between authoritarianism and development is scant. Democratic countries such the United States and post-World War II Japan were highly successful developmental states.

Since the 1950s, the Scandinavian countries have also acted as developmental states, where political legitimacy is derived from social services and full employment rather than from rapid growth. In Brazil, Mexico, Chile and elsewhere in Latin America, human development progress has accelerated since the consolidation of democratically elected civilian rule over the past two decades.

China’s political culture is fast evolving as living standards continue to rise, with an increasingly well-informed citizenry demanding greater government accountability. And India, a prime force in the Rise of the South, has been the world’s largest representative democracy for more than six decades.


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