Leveraging South-South Cooperation to Build Forward Better from COVID-19

September 28, 2021


Medical equipment is transferred to enhance capacities in response to COVID-19


As COVID-19’s Delta variant has triggered new waves of infections around the world, and countries continue to deal with the socioeconomic effects of the crisis, it’s clear that the global fight against the pandemic will be longer and more complex than first imagined. To overcome this global challenge, solid global partnerships are vital. South-South and Triangular Cooperation – partnerships that build solidarity among developing countries, especially low and middle-income ones – is more important than ever to combat the current crisis and build forward into a safer, more equal and greener future.


How to respond to COVID-19 and future pandemics?

The varied responses to the pandemic have highlighted structural gaps between developed and developing countries. Compared to the Global North, countries in the Global South have limited access to the knowledge and resources that could help them tackle public health crises. Compounding the loss of life due to infections are also socioeconomic shocks. According to a UNDP study, COVID-19 could push the number of people living in extreme poverty to over 1 billion by 2030.[1] This suggests most countries in the Global South will suffer from the pandemic’s impact for many years to come.

With the threat of more potential variants emerging, building countries’ resilience in the face of systematic uncertainty and risk is a crucial task. Addressing vaccine inequity and supporting developing countries in overcoming long standing structural deficiencies in their health infrastructure will be critical for us as a world community to win the fight against COVID19 and be better prepared for future pandemics.

No one will be safe until everyone is safe as UN Secretary Guterres has stressed time and again.  The principle of leaving no one behind in pandemic preparedness is key to protecting the poorest and the most vulnerable, while fully containing the pandemic.

What is the significance of South-South and Triangular Cooperation?

Partnerships are critical to scaling up the response to global crises like COVID-19 and South-South and Triangular Cooperation can be a powerful tool to help countries of the Global South develop solutions that best suit their needs and context.

The nature of development partnerships in the 21st century is changing. As Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, points out, “development is no longer a one-way transfer of funds or expertise, but rather equal partnerships rooted in shared interests, shared experience and multilateral responses.”[2] Under the framework of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, countries can access shared insights on development issues with each bringing their own knowledge and experiences to the table.


What is UNDP China’s role?

Building on the ongoing efforts of China and UNDP’s Regional Hub in Bangkok to reduce the risk and impact of COVID-19 in the Asia-Pacific Region, UNDP China and the Government of China developed an initiative to channel Chinese support to five countries in Asia-Pacific. Under the title ‘Learning from China’s Experience to Improve the Ability of Response to COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific Region’, China’s South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund (SSCAF) is providing US$ 5million through UNDP China to Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, the Philippines, and Myanmar. This trilateral partnership aims to improve healthcare waste management (HCWM) systems in these countries and raise awareness amongst their most vulnerable populations about COVID-19 protection and response measures.

By transferring HCWM equipment and improving the capacity of key actors within the HCWM system, the project expects to build a more resilient and sustainable public health system in each country. It thereby contributes to a fairer and more sustainable COVID-19 response and recovery.

Regular exchanges and dialogues initiated between the five countries and China also enables the project to cater to their specific needs and demands in fighting and controlling the pandemic. For example, a webinar recently held on COVID-19 prevention and control gave the project countries an opportunity to discuss challenges and the lessons learned from their perspectives. This helped to shed light on what UNDP and our Chinese partners can do to offer more tailored training courses under the project.

UNDP China has also launched several other initiatives leveraging China’s engagement in South-South and Triangular Cooperation to help countries of the Global South build forward better from the pandemic. For example, thanks to financial support from SSCAF, we work on improving the livelihoods of women and youth in Lebanon. This is done through providing software and hardware facilities to small and medium enterprises and strengthening their capacities to use e-commerce platforms thereby expanding their access to markets. This project aims to empower vulnerable groups facing future socioeconomic crises in the post-COVID era.

Beyond SSCAF, UNDP China also partners with the Ministry of Commerce of China to carry out trilateral cooperation with a view to boosting green recovery from COVID-19. Under the China-Ethiopia-Sri Lanka South-South Trilateral Cooperation Project, technologies related to biomass, biogas and solar are transferred to Ethiopia and Sri Lanka to scale up use of renewable energies in the agricultural and industrial sectors of the two countries and help them realize national development goals in post-COVID-19 era in a green and sustainable way.

Moving forward, UNDP China will continue to join hands with the Government of China, applying successful practices and experiences in the Global South. Meanwhile, we stand ready to deepen our cooperation to help realize the 2030/60 carbon peaking and neutrality targets and support sustainable investments into low carbon development and renewable energy in China’s overseas engagements. We will also help Global South countries to draw on lessons learned at the regional and global level by harnessing our networks.

Most importantly, we will continue promoting South-South and Triangular cooperation as an essential part of China’s global engagement and as a way of building a more resilient, sustainable and equal future for all that is in line with the SDGs and leaves no one behind.


Authored by Sujuan Zhang, UNDP China Team Leader of China South South Facility

[1] https://www.undp.org/press-releases/covid-19-could-push-number-people-living-extreme-poverty-over-1-billion-2030-says

[2] https://www.undp.org/speeches/executive-board-undp-unfpa-and-unops-second-regular-session-2021