On solidarity

March 15, 2023

On November 7th, 2022, the UN Secretary General called for a pact between developed and developing countries to join forces and combine capabilities, address climate change, and avoid a climate disaster. Speaking to world leaders, that were reunited for the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in Egypt, he argued that we are ‘on a highway to climate hell’, and that as humanity we have a choice, to either cooperate or perish. These statements reflect the urgency of the climate crisis we face, with the past eight years on track to be the eight warmest on record, with extreme weather, heatwaves, drought, and floods affecting millions of people. The climate crisis combined with new layers of uncertainties are also in the focus of the 2021/2022 Human Development Report (HDR), which emphasizes these uncertainties and how they have affected health, education, and standard of living of the worlds’ nations. Noteworthy, for the first time since UNDP has been calculating the development index, it has been in decline for two years in a row, reversing some of the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Remarking on the report, the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, echoed the need for ‘global solidarity’ when tackling our interconnected, common challenges of today.


Demanding greater solidarity in providing security for people, is in the focus of the 2022 special report on ‘New threats to human security in the Anthropocene’. The human security approach (when it was introduced in 1994) reframed the entire debate on what constitutes security, by moving the focus from territorial to people’s security. This approach allowed policymakers and academics to use a human security lens, considering people’s views and beliefs on what constitutes security, including their basic needs, physical integrity, and human dignity. It reaffirmed the importance of everyone’s right to freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom from indignity. The special report from 2022 argues in favor of complementing the existing protection and empowerment strategies with solidarity, so that we can withstand the challenges of the Anthropocene. Solidarity, understood as a commitment for us to work together in tackling the challenges of today, and as process that furthers enables and promotes people’s agency.



The argument on the significance of solidarity in navigating the challenges of the Anthropocene, is something that people in North Macedonia can easily relate to. After a damaging earthquake in 1963 that left the capital Skopje in rubble, with 1070 causalities and over 3000 injured women, men and children, the country received immense support in rebuilding and reconstructing the city. The solidarity of people, the Republics within the Yugoslav Federation at the time, as well as a coordinated international effort helped to rebuild the city but also lifted the spirits of people. At the time, the United Nations were coordinating the support effort, and notably despite the Cold War, both Easter and Western bloc countries assisted with both resources and personnel.  To show gratitude for this incredible endeavor the city adopted a motto ‘Skopje, the city of international solidarity’, recognizing the role other countries and individuals played in rebuilding the city. Even today, symbols of the manifested solidarity can be found on the streets of the capital, be it the streets named after contributing countries, or the objects and neighborhoods that are build in the post-earthquake period.

‘The multilateralism and international solidarity demonstrated in the aftermath of the Skopje earthquake in 1963 is something that can inspire us to act today. The UN system at the time, came together and provided technical assistance to the country, by appointing an international consultative board, supporting four projects as a part of UN technical assistance, as well as playing a role in shaping the reconstruction of Skopje through the Special Fund and Skopje Urban Plan projects. We are very proud of the role UNDP played in the process of rebuilding Skopje to a more resilient city in the aftermath of the earthquake. This collaboration and partnership extend to today, when together with the city of Skopje and national partners we are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the earthquake.
Armen Grigoryan, UNDP Resident Representative in North Macedonia

As part of the UN led effort to rebuilt and mitigate the effects of the destruction which involved 35 countries, Poland offered the project concept and documentation for the Museum of Contemporary Art intended to house the art collection that the city of Skopje received in the aftermath of the earthquake. In addition, it was a Polish architect Adolf Ciborowski that in 1964 arrived in Skopje as a Manager of the UN Skopje Urban Plan Project. Twenty years after his appointment Ciborowski reflecting on his journey, wrote that the women from Skopje, were a crucial factor for the impressive societal, economic and professional achievements in the follow up of the earthquake, as women used their  dedication, readiness, assistance, and support to rebuild the city. In another testimony, members of the German Red Cross recollect the great friendships that were forged with the people that were given shelter in the city parks in the days following the earthquake. The stories talk about the willingness of the women to help with the preparation of food for thousands of people in the city that were left temporarily without homes. This research publication contains testimonies from women and minorities, giving a valuable contribution to the public record and our collective memory of the events that unfolded. Many international strategies and frameworks have identified women as one of the key stakeholders in disaster management efforts, due to their important role in disaster response and recovery stages. This was true in the days following the earthquake Skopje was the destination for hundreds of individuals from across the globe who arrived to assist the reconstruction of the city.  Two examples from Sweden include Ms.  Anna- Ma Toll who representing the Save the Children organization, helped the immediate rescue efforts, and  Ambassador Agda Rössel who donated books from the Universities in Uppsala and Gothenburg to the University in Skopje. Reports from the days after the earthquake are filled with impressive stories of people, organizations and states showcasing solidarity in action. Ranging from schoolteachers that taught kids in rescue tents, to the communities that temporarily accepted, gave accommodation, and took care of the children and women that left Skopje days after the earthquake.

‘The friendship between our two countries has taken roots since 1963, after the catastrophic earthquake, when many countries in the world, including Sweden, sent aid in the spirit of solidarity. Already in the first days immediately after the earthquake, medical aid and tents for the survivors arrived from Sweden. The Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish Church Union and the Swedish Government helped build 125 apartments in the Trnodol neighborhood, sent barracks to the settlement Gjorce Petrov 2, provided financial aid for the construction of a children's hospital in the same neighborhood, a home for the elderly in the settlement Zlokukjani, and a hospital for children with respiratory diseases in Kozle on the slopes of Vodno, which began to receive patients as early as 1965. Sweden has and will continue to stand in solidarity to help ease the suffering of people who find themselves in difficult humanitarian situations, such as the devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and northern Syria earlier this year. On 20 March Sweden will co-host the European Humanitarian Forum 2023 and organize a donor conference for the people of Türkiye and Syria. Solidarity is about helping those in need by caring for their immediate needs, be it medical aid, shelter, food, helping them rebuild what was ruined, but is also about bringing hope and a sense of security in difficult times, and letting them know that despite the devastating situation they are in, they are not alone. They have friends who will stand by them.’
H.E. Ami Larsson Jain, Ambassador of Sweden in Skopje, North Macedonia

This text doesn’t do justice to the support received from variety of actors that participated in the re-building of Skopje. Many books provide a more holistic overview of the support, and one of them that inspired us is: Skopje, the City of Solidarity [link]. In addition, this year we are marking the 60th anniversary of the Skopje earthquake giving us an opportune moment to have a broader conversation on solidarity, and the importance of disaster preparedness.


At the time of writing this article, two devastating earthquakes hit Türkiye and Syria, becoming one of the worst disasters of the century with enormous loss of life and a severe impact on millions of people. UNDP estimates that the ‘destruction has left 1.5 million people homeless and will require the construction of 500,000 new housing units to compensate’, but first the rubble from the earthquake awaits removal. Over a month after the earthquake the needs of individuals and communities remain vast, The time for international solidarity is now, as the UN has appealed for more than $1bn in funds for the Turkish earthquake relief operation, just two days after launching a $400m appeal for Syrians. Demanding greater solidarity for the security of people and complementing the existing protection and empowerment strategies of the human security approach with solidarity is what we need - to account for the interconnected challenges of today, and the disasters that communities and people are facing.

We conclude this text with the appeal from the UN Secretary General ‘In the face of this epic disaster, I strongly appeal to the international community to show the people of Türkiye and Syria the same kind of support and generosity with which they received, protected and assisted millions of refugees and displaced people in an enormous show of solidarity’.