United Nations Conference Examines Ways to Help Struggling Countries (Viewpoint)


The Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries took place on May 9-13 in Istanbul, Turkey. At the conference, representatives agreed to get half the LDCs out of poverty by 2020, by developing their productive capacity in infrastructure and energy, and promoting food security, human development, and good governance. Rather than looking at localization, the focus was on private investment and aid. But development assistance currently remains at around 0.2% of GNP. Only three countries have graduated since the first group of LDCs was listed in 1971, and progress is still elusive for the 880 million people in the 48 LDCs. 

By Mamady Kaba

Michigan Live
July 19, 2011

The United Nations fourth conference on the least developed countries (LDCs) was held in May in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference was presided by Turkish President Abdullah Gul alongside UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon. More that 8,000 guests, including ministers, parliamentarians, representatives from the private sector, scientists and members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from 192 UN member countries, attended the event. The conference brought together more than 36 heads of state and governments, 10 vice presidents, 94 ministers and 47 international organizations.

The least-developed countries — 48 countries with a total population of 880 million — represent the poorest and weakest segment of the international community. LDCs are characterized by many constraints such as low per capita income, low levels of human development and economic and structural handicaps to growth that limit their resilience to vulnerabilities.

According to the UN, 75 percent of the population in these countries make less than $2 a day or less than $900 a year. These countries continue to have the lowest per capita incomes and the highest population growth rates. They are the most off track in the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the UN millennium development goals, and are at the bottom of the human development index rankings. Among the LDCs, 33 are located in Africa, 14 in the Asia-Pacific region and one in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The concept of LDCs emerged in the late 1960s and the first group of LDCs was listed in 1971. The first UN conference on the LDCS took place in Paris in 1980. Since then, every 10 years the UN convenes to discuss ways to help these countries graduate from the LDC category. Since its listing as a group, only 3 countries have been able to graduate. Therefore, the main objective of the Istanbul conference was not only to evaluate the progress made since the last meeting that took place in Brussels, Belgium, but also to get half the LDCs to improve by 2020.

Titled “Program of action for the least developed countries for the decade 2011-2020”, the 50-page document published at the end of the meeting provides a road map for the least developed countries in the next 10 years. Ultimately, the document adopted new measures and strategies for the sustainable development of the LDCs for the decade to come.

One reason to do this is the belief that solidarity, cooperation and partnership with the least developed countries, the poorest, most vulnerable and weakest countries and their people are not only moral imperatives, they are also economic and political ones. LDCs represent an enormous human and natural resources potential for the world economic growth, welfare, prosperity, energy and food security. The UN contends that a successful renewed and strengthened global partnership that effectively addresses the special needs of LDCs will contribute to the cause of peace, prosperity and sustainable development of all.

To get tangible results 10 years from now, the conference identified several priority areas of action including the productive capacity development of LDCs in the areas of infrastructure and energy, the promotion of agriculture and food security and human and social development. Other key areas include the management of multiple crises, mobilization of financial resources and good governance at all levels in the LDCs.

Indeed, the donor states, which are the wealthiest countries in the world including the United States, renewed their commitment to provide official development assistance to the LDCs. To put this in perspective, the donor countries gave away $38 billion to the LDCs between 2001 and 2008, which were less than 0.2 percent of their GNP.

So, much more needs to be done if the international community wants to get half of the LDCs to move out of that category, including attracting more private investment. But to achieve the ultimate goal, LDCs will have to implement good governance through better management of resources and fighting corruption.

Mamady Kaba is a journalist from Mali, West Africa. He lives in Kalamazoo and attends Western Michigan University.