A United Nations conference focused on the world's least developed countries (LDCs) kicked-off today in Antalya, Turkey, to assess these 48 States' progress over the past five years, and to find ways of accelerating their path towards sustainable development.
“Least developed countries have seen significant progress and are a major human and natural resource potential for the world, but more needs to be done to support them,” said Gyan Chandra Acharya, the UN High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States, speaking in the Turkish coastal city.
“This event is a major opportunity for the international community to come together and reaffirm global commitments that were made in 2011 to ensure that the world's poorest nations are at the forefront of efforts to build an inclusive and sustainable future for the world,” he added.
Five years ago, UN Member States met in Turkey and adopted the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA), a ten-year plan to give impetus to economic and social development in some of the world's most vulnerable States.
The opening session of the Midterm Review of the IPoA, co-organized by Mr. Acharya's Office (OHRLLS) and the Government of Turkey, brought together high-level representatives and over two thousand stakeholders from governments, international and regional organizations, civil society, the private sector, foundations, think tanks and the media.
The three-day event will focus on how LDCs have experienced some progress in areas including poverty reduction, child mortality, gender parity and access to internet and mobile networks. Economic growth has also been strong even though its pace has been more volatile and below the average of the last decade. There has also been an increase in the number of countries fulfilling criteria which will lead towards graduation from their status as an LDC.
Countries that demonstrate the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development – typically high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy rates, among others – are considered LDCs. A country is classified as an LDC if it meets three criteria:
- Poverty – adjustable criterion based on Gross National Income (GNI) per capita averaged over three years. As of 2015 a country must have GNI per capita less than US $1,035 to be included on the list, and over $1,242 to graduate from it.
- Human resource weakness (based on indicators of nutrition, health, education and adult literacy); and
- Economic vulnerability (based on instability of agricultural production, instability of exports of goods and services, economic importance of non-traditional activities, merchandise export concentration, handicap of economic smallness, and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters)
According to the UN, Samoa is the only country to have graduated since 2011. Equatorial Guinea, Vanuatu and Angola are scheduled to graduate, and seven other LDCs – Bhutan, Kiribati, Nepal, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu – have reportedly met the criteria as of March 2015. Only Botswana, Cape Verde and Maldives graduated before 2011.
“This is an important opportunity to focus on the special needs of LDCs, and to assess the status of implementation of the IPoA, taking into account last year's important global agendas, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Helen Clark, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), at the opening plenary.
“Despite important progress, however, significant challenges remain: 51 per cent of the population of LDCs live in extreme poverty, and 18 million children of school age are not in school. Despite LDCs having 12.5 per cent of the world's population, their exports account for only 1.1 per cent of the global total,” she noted.
The category of least developed countries (LDCs) was officially established in 1971 by the UN General Assembly to attract special international support to disadvantaged 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.
“We cannot accept that in the next 15 years there will not be a reduction in the number of LDCs,” said Mogens Lykketoft, the President of the 70th session of the General Assembly, in an interview with the UN News Service.
“We have to make sure that there is enough growth in their economies so that there will be many, many, of the LDCs moving out of that category. It has been all too few up until now,” he lamented, noting that many are still least developed because of conflict, which if left uncontained, will impede efforts to end underdevelopment, poverty and hunger.
Speaking at a press conference, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said the global community should never forget that humanitarian and social development is “indispensable” for sustainable development.
“We will continue to bring the challenges of least developed countries to the agenda of G-20,” he stressed, noting that Turkey's official development aid was about $1 billion in 2010, and increased to $3.9 billion in 2015.