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Briefing on Least Developed Countries

On the 29 March 2010, the Senior Program Officer of the UN-Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), Ms Susanna Wolf, held an impressive presentation concerning the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Thereby she presented us a clear overview about the institutional design, its calibre, the role of the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) and some insights from personal experiences she has gained in African countries.

In 1971, the General Assembly based on the work of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the recommendations of CDP introduced the category of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) also with the form of a list to focus more on specific needs of countries being isolated from the world market and having low perspectives for development. Compared to 1971 in 2010 the number of LDCs has risen from 25 to 49 countries, 33 of the LDCs are located in Africa, 15 in Asia and the Pacific and 1 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To identify these countries, four types of quantitative criteria are being used:

  • population must not be over 75 million
  • per capita Gross National Income (GNI)
  • the Human Assets Index (HAI)
  • the Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI)

In contradiction to the first criterion Ethiopia and Bangladesh are listed as LDCs, although their population exceeds the fore set limit. It is due to the fact that they joined before this criterion was established in 1991 by ECOSOC (as proposed by CDP), that they are still listed within that group. The second criterion examines the per capita GNI. Most of these states have an extreme low per capita income often leading their economies to a stalemate, because of various financial and social crises. The Human Assets Index (HAI) can be linked to many Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) because it includes the subcategories literacy, nutrition, education, and health. The Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) assesses the diversity of goods and services, the instability of exports, the agricultural share, the remoteness from the main world markets and also the homelessness of the population of a state.

Concisely Ms Susanna Wolf concluded that the main challenges of the LDCs are the economic vulnerability, the high level of poverty, food insecurity and foremost low levels or even complete lack of progress towards the MDGs. Therefore, she emphasised the importance of the Brussels Declaration and the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 (BPoA) adopted by the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (2001, Brussels, also A/RES/55/279). Very important is that the Programme of Action includes a framework for partnership between LDCs and their development partners, who share differentiated responsibilities or mutual commitments. The BPoA sets 30 international development goals, including some of the MDGs and contains 10 cross-cutting priority issues such as: poverty eradication, gender equality, capacity building and employment.

She mentioned also European Union (EU) programmes in support of the ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific States) as related to these issues. She went into detail about the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) whose programmes are partly overlapping with the ‘Everything but Arms’ initiative by the EU. Since September 2009, EBA provides full duty free quota free access to the EU market for all products from LDCs.

With respect to Official Development Assistance (ODA), which should have been improved through the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the BPoA (2001), she still remarked the need for more co-ordination. Especially in regard to sustainable development, she estimated it needs a stronger inclusion of stakeholders, continuance of work and co-operation in conferences, an increase of the Official Development Assistance and in general a better financial system within the LDCs to foster their domestic resource mobilisation. One positive step could be a stronger regional integration of the different political, social and foremost economical systems. These are also key goals being discussed at the next ECOSOC meeting in June 2010 and the MDG Summit in September 2010. Thus, it can be said, that the international community is aware that institutions matter and diverse programmes are installed, but few of them are efficiently interconnected to reach sustainable development, which is what LDCs need most. She also put emphasis on the Fourth United Nations Conference on LDCs in 2011 in Turkey and the importance of the work of its preparatory process (Pre-Conference events, Regional Review Meetings and Special Events).

On the whole it was fascinating to realise how interesting and crucial it can be studying the challenges the LDCs are facing day by day. In addition to that it was very interesting to gain an overview of how methods of good governance structure can contribute in overcoming specific national problems and general deficits of the global regulation. We, therefore, would like to express our deep appreciation to Ms Susanna Wolf for her inspiring and meaningful briefing.

Dennis Scherer