Least Developed Countries Still Face Significant Challenges
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 2016 (IPS) – Since establishing the category of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in 1971, the United Nations together with the international community have worked hand in hand to support the most vulnerable members of the family of nations.
Despite three successive Programmes of Action and notwithstanding the positive developments recorded by LDCs over the years, most of these countries continue to face significant development challenges.
In 2011, the international community met in Istanbul, Turkey, for the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries which adopted the 10-year Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA).
The IPoA articulated the means to address the overarching goal of overcoming the structural challenges faced by the LDCs to eradicate poverty, achieve internationally agreed development goals and enable half of the LDCs to graduate from the LDC category by the year 2020.
The oft asked question is how have these countries progressed in the first five years of the IPoA? Given the vulnerabilities and significant challenges they continue to face, there have been encouraging albeit mixed results. For instance, economic growth has been strong, even though its pace has been more volatile and below the average of the last decade. GDP for the group has grown from 4.3 percent in 2012 to 5.3 percent in 2014. We have also seen 12 LDCs reaching growth rates of 7 percent or more in 2014.
The LDCs are also making progress in human development and reducing poverty. There is increasing access to the internet and mobile phone networks; the number of internet users per 100 people almost doubled, from 4.4 percent in 2010 to 8.6 percent in 2014, and this progress is being seen in almost all LDCs We are also seeing expanding transport infrastructure, improvements in the regulatory environment for the private sector, reductions in child mortality and improving gender parity in primary education and the representation of women in parliament.
While graduation from LDC status is a means to an end, a good reflection of progress is the increase in the number of countries that meet the graduation criteria. Until 2011, only three countries – Botswana, Cabo Verde and Maldives – graduated from the LDC category. This perceived slow rate of graduation has often been a criticism but in reality portrays the major challenges that both LDCs and their development partners have had to overcome. The most recent country to graduate is Samoa, in January 2014, while 10 additional LDCs had reached the graduation thresholds as of March 2015 and are currently at different stages of the graduation process. Furthermore, an encouraging number of LDCs have announced their ambition to graduate around 2020.
While there have been positive trends, major challenges remain. Bilateral Official Development Assistance (Aid) to LDCs dropped sharply in 2014, reaching US$43.7 billion, representing a decline of 9.3 percent in real terms from 2013. In 2014, the total external debt of the LDCs ballooned to US$217 billion, an increase of 8.8 percent. It is particularly pertinent that with a combined population of some 1.3 billion people, the LDCs’ share of world exports remains stagnant at around 1 percent and are predominantly comprised of primary commodities, a major challenge that needs to be comprehensively addressed to ensure more diversity and achieve economies of scale. Recent projections by the International Monetary Fund on the slowing global economy will no doubt be of particular concern for the development prospects of LDCs.
Despite hard won gains, LDCs continue to face significant challenges. The saying goes that when larger developed nations sneeze, the less developed catch a cold. Building and maintaining the resilience of LDCs to external shocks continues to be a high priority. In a rapidly changing geopolitical, economic and natural environment – with the gamut of challenges from high debt levels, changing migration patterns and projected slowdown in the global economy – LDCs need support to be able to assess the risks and alter their strategies accordingly. This will need to be done in a holistic, coordinated and timely manner.
In addition, climate change poses a major burden for this group of countries. It is a sad reality that while the world’s most vulnerable countries have contributed the least to climate change, they are most at risk from its negative effects and the least equipped to withstand and adapt to it. For LDCs, climate change is spoken in the language of depleted aquifers, severe drought, melting glaciers and land degradation. With a majority reliant on agriculture, climate change poses serious implications for food security, not to mention setting off flashpoints for conflict and population displacement. And as we have witnessed all too often, for those LDCs which are small island developing States, a single extreme weather event can wipe away years of development gains in a matter of hours.
The task ahead is to ensure ambitious mitigation programs across the world, and likewise guarantee effective adaptation support to LDCs. The Green Climate Fund’s commitments to allocating 50 percent of its adaptation financing to vulnerable countries is crucial and likewise, the World Bank’s efforts, to increase its climate financing portfolio to 28 percent by 2020 are a critical step forward. The momentum around the Paris Climate Change Agreement has also brought about renewed hope in galvanising the support of financial institutions, development partners and bilateral and multilateral partnerships, to enable vulnerable countries to develop resilience to climate change.
We are now mid-way through the implementation of the IPoA and the moment is upon us to take stock of successes, challenges and lessons learned. It is also an opportunity to capitalise on the shared will of the international community to redouble efforts in enhancing support for the LDCs. The Midterm Review conference – to take place in Antalya, Turkey from 27 to 29 May, 2016 – takes place on the heels of an unprecedented and ambitious agenda for the United Nations where in 2015, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Agenda for Action, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement were adopted. The Midterm review therefore presents a timely opportunity to foster greater synergies between the implementation of the IPoA and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In addition, the conference also presents an important opportunity to foster transformative multi-stakeholder partnerships among all stakeholders including governments, private sector, academia, civil society and the United Nation to strengthen the enabling environment for sustainable development in LDCs.
Indeed, the Midterm Review is held back-to-back with the World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Istanbul – from 23-24 May, 2016 – the outcomes for which have great relevance for LDCs as they face disproportionate impacts of man-made and natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
Our collective efforts to support LDCs are now aligning with universal goals for sustainable development. We are now in a unique position to make great strides towards ensuring the next five years will produce tangible and effective results for this group of countries. That will require strong national leadership and ownership, effective global partnership and solidarity.
In this day and age of unprecedented global prosperity, rapid advances in science and technology and globalization, the citizens of LDCs should not remain entrapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation and inequity. It is not only a moral imperative, it is in the enlightened interest of the international community to help bring about structural transformation in these countries and help them eradicate poverty and marginalization. The LDCs represent an enormous human and natural resource potential for world economic growth, welfare and prosperity. Therefore, a strengthened global partnership that effectively addresses the special needs of the LDCs will also contribute to peace, prosperity and sustainable development for all.
Gyan Chandra Acharya is UN Under-Secretary-General for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
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