The Global South: origins and significance


The unwillingness of many leading countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to stand with NATO over the war in Ukraine has brought to the fore once again the term “Global South.”

Global South

  • The term “Global South” is not geographical. Rather, its usage denotes a mix of political, geopolitical and economic commonalities between nations.
  • It  refers to various countries around the world that are sometimes described as ‘developing’, ‘less developed’ or ‘underdeveloped’.
  • Many of these countries — although by no means all — are in the Southern Hemisphere, largely in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
  • In general, they are poorer, have higher levels of income inequality and suffer lower life expectancy and harsher living conditions than countries in the “Global North” — that is, richer nations that are located mostly in North America and Europe, with some additions in Oceania and elsewhere.

Going beyond the ‘Third World’

  • The term Global South appears to have been first used in 1969 by political activist Carl Oglesby.
  • But it was only after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union — which marked the end of the so-called “Second World” — that the term gained momentum.
  • Until then, the more common term for developing nations — countries that had yet to industrialise fully — was ‘Third World’.
  • The term ‘First World’ referred to the advanced capitalist nations; the ‘Second World’, to the socialist nations led by the Soviet Union; and the ‘Third World’, to developing nations, many at the time still under the colonial yoke.
  • Eventually ‘Third World’ became a synonym for banana republics ruled by tinpot dictators — a caricature spread by Western media.
  • The fall of the Soviet Union — and with it the end of the so-called Second World — gave a convenient pretext for the term ‘Third World’ to disappear, too.
  • Meanwhile ‘developed’, ‘developing’ and ‘underdeveloped’ also faced criticism for holding up Western countries as the ideal, while portraying those outside that club as backwards.
  • Increasingly the term that was being used to replace them was the more neutral-sounding “Global South.”

Geopolitical, not geographical

  • The term ‘Global South’ is not geographical. In fact, the Global South’s two largest countries — China and India — lie entirely in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Rather, its usage denotes a mix of political, geopolitical and economic commonalities between nations.
  • Countries in the Global South were mostly at the receiving end of imperialism and colonial rule, with African countries as perhaps the most visible example of this.
  • It gives them a very different outlook on what dependency theorists have described as the relationship between the centre and periphery in the world political economy — or, to put it in simple terms, the relationship between “the West and the rest.”
  • By 2030 it is projected that three of the four largest economies will be from the Global South — with the order being China, India, the U.S. and Indonesia.
  • Already the GDP in terms of purchasing power of the the Global South-dominated BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — surpasses that of the Global North’s G-7 club. And there are now more billionaires in Beijing than in New York City.


  • Countries in the Global South are increasingly asserting themselves on the global scene — be it China’s brokering of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement or Brazil’s attempt to push a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine.
  • One thing is for sure: the Global South is flexing political and economic muscles that the ‘developing countries’ and the ‘Third World’ never had.

Editorial 2 : Don’t waste the wastewater


Wastewater surveillance for known or new health threats offers many benefits for enhancing public health efforts.

A public health tool revisited

  • This hypothetical scenario is now a tangible reality. A recently published study in The Lancet Global Health reiterated the promise of using wastewater for public health surveillance.
  • This strategy, originally proposed more than 80 years ago to monitor the spread of poliovirus within communities, played a role in confirming India’s victory over poliovirus.
  • It gained fresh relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was identified as an approach for tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Wastewater surveillance

  • Wastewater surveillance for known or new health threats offers many benefits for enhancing public health efforts.
  •  It is a cost-effective approach that does not rely on invasive samples from individuals with clinical symptoms.
  • While our public health surveillance system has improved in recent years, it still faces many implementation challenges.
  • For instance, according to a recent report by Niti Aayog, the system grapples with issues like uneven coverage and siloed disease-specific efforts.
  • Incorporating wastewater surveillance will not fix these issues, but it could help reduce the reliance on any one source of data.
  • In practical terms, wastewater surveillance in India could involve systematic sampling and analysis of samples from varied sources such as wastewater ponds in rural areas and centralised sewage systems in urban localities.
  • These samples would undergo testing at designated laboratories to identify markers of disease-causing agents, such as genetic fragments of bacteria or viruses.
  • These data could be compiled together with other source of health data to provide real-time insights into community-level disease patterns, sometimes earlier than clinical data.
  • The integration of wastewater surveillance with existing surveillance mechanisms could help amplify India’s epidemiological capabilities and could strengthen the capacity to detect diseases at an early stage, including in areas where access to healthcare facilities and diagnostic testing might be limited.
  • Additionally, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, which aims to create a seamless online platform for healthcare services, offers an opportunity for the integration of wastewater surveillance.
  • Successful integration will rely on public health professionals trained not only in traditional epidemiological methods, but also in the management and interpretation of data derived from wastewater surveillance.

Data sharing

  • The promise of wastewater surveillance hinges on data sharing.
  • This is not just a domestic issue, but also an international consideration.
  •  It is crucial to cultivate an environment of accessibility and cooperative strategies among appropriate agencies, within and beyond borders.
  • Internally, providing access to wastewater surveillance data to health departments at all levels of government can amplify our capabilities for disease monitoring and response.
  • Sharing wastewater surveillance data with global health agencies could foster collaborative efforts in disease tracking and mitigation.
  • This can be a key element in building a robust global health infrastructure capable of rapidly responding to public health threats.

Political backing and funding

  • It is encouraging that India has already championed public health surveillance and mobilised resources accordingly.
  • Current discussions have noted the importance of innovation and implementation.
  • The integration of wastewater surveillance is fully aligned with Niti Aayog’s current vision.
  • Other innovative forms of disease surveillance include social media surveillance and occupational health surveillance.

Way forward

  • India’s leadership at international platforms like the G20 could serve as an opportunity to elevate the significance of innovative approaches to disease surveillance.
  • With the world’s attention focused on global health security in the wake of recent pandemics, these forums provide an opportunity to advocate for enhanced public health surveillance that integrates wastewater sampling as an essential component of health infrastructure.
  • Through strategic collaborations and proactive leadership, India can lead the way in integrated public health surveillance, offering a model that is alert, predictive, responsive, and robust.


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