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Disability challenge: Bridging the north-south divide is the first step

We need aggressive action focused on improving the HDIs in the global south. This is an imperative of our times.

diffrently-abled children, disability, news, india news, blogs, javed abidi About twenty countries in the Global South do not even provide information necessary to develop their HDI.

WHO and the World Bank estimate that one billion people in the world live with a disability. Of this, as many as 800 million live in the developing countries – or the Global South. Hence decision making on disability needs to move to the Global South. People with disabilities, especially in the Global South, now want to determine their own future once again.

2016 is a landmark year as it marks 10 years of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which has been ratified by as many as 162 countries as of February 2016. This Convention has helped us understand disability better – as not just a rights but a development issue.

If we need to make the rights that CRPD enshrines a reality, then mere ratification of the Convention will not amount to anything. We have to collect relevant data, define the problem and solve the problem.

Let’s first state the problem.

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The United Nations Development Programme Report of 2005, had put forth an interesting stratification of the world, by Human Development Index; the Global South and the Global North. The Global North refers to the 57 countries with high human development that have a Human Development Index (HDI) above 0.8. Most, but not all, of these countries are located in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Global South refers to the countries of the rest of the world, most of which are located in the Southern Hemisphere. It includes both countries with medium human development (88 countries with an HDI less than .8 and greater than .5) and low human development (32 countries with an HDI of less than .5). Thus defined, the Global South is made up of some 133 countries out of a total of 197. Most of the Global South is located in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia.

The global south faces several issues. Dignified living and accessibility for persons with disability is one of them. 80% of people with disabilities are mostly concentrated in under-developed and developing countries (global south).

About twenty countries in the Global South do not even provide information necessary to develop their HDI.


Which brings me back to how do we solve a problem, that we have not yet defined. Today, the World Bank acknowledges that we need a better handle on disability data. We need reliable data, as we plan and budget who to skill and how to skill, and as we move towards building human capital. In the wake of shrinking revenues and shrinking donor budgets, even the World Bank has to think about how we can be more innovative and make money work better for persons with disability.

More importantly, the decision making powers that be, when it comes to disability are concentrated in the north.

The problems of the south need customized solutions and sustained effort. Hence, a re-look at the structure of the policy making is needed. It is widely known that poverty and disability are interlinked.


Persons with disabilities are financially excluded as they are unbanked. In the US the largest unbanked population is persons with disabilities and we suspect that its pretty much the same (or significantly worse) in the whole world. Hence, mainstreaming persons with disability with skills and employment is critical.

Skilling persons with disabilities can see a bump in the GDP of a country up to 1.5 per cent. This is a very compelling economic argument for us to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need aggressive action focused on improving the HDIs in the global south. This is an imperative of our times.

First published on: 17-07-2016 at 02:53:31 pm
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