LDCs: Behind the scenes – gearing up for a UN conference on least developed countries

26 May 2016

Collaborating on the organization of major international conferences is a task well known to the United Nations, whose staff have the responsibility of ensuring that key messages are successfully delivered to not only those on location, but also worldwide.

This week alone, two summits in Turkey have been organized with the support of the Turkish Government; first the World Humanitarian Summit which ended on Tuesday, and starting tomorrow, in the coastal city of Antalya, the Midterm Review of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPOA).

The 10-year plan was developed to give impetus to economic and social development in some of the world's most vulnerable States. The category of least developed countries (LDCs) was officially established in 1971 by the UN General Assembly to attract special international support to disadvantages members of the UN family.

The current list includes 34 in Africa, 13 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America. The newest to have joined is South Sudan.

Today in Antalya, the technical arrangements for ensuring that the global IPOA conference can be followed by millions of viewers were being tweaked. Crucial services include interpretation in the six official languages of the Organization.

Sophie Louyot, the UN chief interpreter, is leading a team of 49 language experts. She started in 1982 as an interpreter herself and has been on many missions to major UN conferences. The UN News Centre asked her to explain the difference between covering an international meeting at the world body's New York Headquarters, as opposed to one in a remote location.

“First of all, we are in a hotel, so there are no [interpreters'] booths in the rooms,” Ms. Louyot noted. “So they put in chairs and brought mobile booths from outside. They're not the perfect size, they're not isolated correctly, they're not ventilated correctly, but the sound is good, which is the main priority.”

Despite these challenges, she said her dedicated and professional crew of linguists is adapting well because the change of scenery helps break their usual routine.

“Because they're in Antalya, because the surroundings are different, because it's beautiful outside, everything is easier in a way to accept the conditions they're working under," she assured, speaking from one of the hotel rooms redesigned as an “interpreter lounge” through Sunday.

The voices of all these women and men can be heard in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic anywhere in the world on UN Web TV. The broadcast service is also on demand for those in different time zones.

Andreas Damianou, the Chief of that unit, welcomed the UN News Centre into their makeshift space. In less than one day, he has transformed the hotel bar into a broadcast studio.

“We are in one of the main parts of the hotel,” he said. “Actually, it used to be a disco, and we're turning it into a UN webcast room. We set up encoders where we can stream live, simultaneously three meeting or events.”

Four computers are required for each event; two are used for the live stream – one for English and the other for the original language – while the others serve to archive the footage for the on demand service.

Mr. Damianou is working with eight local volunteers who were selected by a Turkish event planning company. They all have very different backgrounds, as the only requirement was to speak English. The rest they learned during a four day training, which was organized in Istanbul prior to the World Humanitarian Summit.

“The hardest part is that we need to be very quick,” said 22-year-old Selin Pars, who recently completed her undergraduate studies in genetics, but was eager to gain a different kind of experience before starting a Master's degree.

She said she is learning the lingo of the broadcast world, and how to work under the pressure of live demands.

“I also get to hear all the speeches, and that's why I'm learning. For example, from the people who govern the countries, like the important people,” she chuckled. “I'm also learning about the current issues in the world and how people are trying to find a solution. It is quite interesting.”

As the day winds down in Antalya, with last minute tweaks to speeches, colorful signs being propped up and security scanners placed at the head of long hotel corridors, those working behind the scenes can now get just a few hours shut eye before the opening drum roll of a crucial conference that will discuss issues of direct concern to more than 880 million people living in some of the world's most vulnerable countries.


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