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DEVELOPMENT: Recovery Could Leave Behind World’s Poorest

Selina Rust

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2010 (IPS) - The world’s 49 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, could feel the effects of the global economic crisis for decades, a senior U.N. official warned this week.

Under-Secretary-General Cheick Sidi Diarra told IPS that if the international community does not live up to pledges made under Brussels Programme of Action nearly a decade ago, even the small gains made during 2000-2008 could be reversed.

“The overarching objective should be to support LDCs, reduce poverty and achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),” he said. “Better alignment of resources behind these priorities is vitally important.”

The Brussels Programme of Action, adopted at the 2001 U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries, outlines measures to be taken by both industrialised nations and LDCs themselves to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.

It includes specific commitments on good governance, enhancing the role of trade in development, reducing vulnerability to natural disasters, protecting the environment, mobilising financial resources, and reducing the debt burden on poor countries.

The total net overseas development aid (ODA) from members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee for LDCs, representing some of the world’s richest donor nations, reached 0.094 percent of the combined gross national income of donors in 2008. This falls well short of the target of 0.15 to 0.20 percent set out in the Brussels Programme of Action.

International support for LDCs should not only focus on recovery but also strive to lay the foundation for sustained economic growth and development, Diarra, U.N. high representative of the LDCs, told IPS.

“If we are going to accelerate progress toward the achievement of the MDGs, it is of utmost importance that the international community of donors fulfills their long-standing commitments of official development assistance,” he stressed.

The LDCs represent the poorest and weakest countries of the international community. A developing nation is classified as LDC if it meets three criteria: low income, human resource weakness and economic vulnerability.

Since Timor Leste was added to the list in 2003, the classification currently applies to 49 countries – 33 in Africa, 15 in Asia and the Pacific region, and one in Latin America.

Although the number of LDCs has more than doubled since the category’s creation in 1971, only two nations graduated from the list: Botswana in 1994 and Cape Verde in 2007. Samoa and Maldives are scheduled for graduation in December 2010 and January 2011.

At a high-level meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Council in early March, one of the themes was supporting developing countries with special needs and those facing humanitarian emergency issues.

“The population of conflict-affected countries knows well that international institutions won’t be around forever,” said Sarah Cliffe, who coordinates the World Bank’s initiative for low-income countries under stress.

She emphasised the importance of supporting efforts to build the capacity of national institutions in order to achieve long-term effectiveness.

“It is a mistake to look at conflicts only in a national dimension,” Cliffe said. “It is necessary to also look at the regional environment concerning pressures that they are facing externally.”

Cliffe, who is also director of the World Development Report, is concerned that international expectations to reform institutions are often too rigid and unrealistic in terms of timing. She cited the example of Haiti before the earthquake, which had huge reform programmes planned, such as restructuring the civil service administration and replacing the Supreme Court.

All reforms needed to be carried out in a year to 18 months time, a period in which the country also had two elections planned.

“I think that there are no developed countries in the world which are able to carry out that much reform in that timetable,” she said.

Charles Gore, from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), also stressed the importance of knowledge in global competition as well as a technological revolution in ICT and energy for LDCs.

“We have to adapt the development state to the 21st century,” he said. “One of the key issues is to shift from ideology to pragmatism.”

He recommended building coalitions between government and business and farmers’ associations and increasing the developmental impact of FDI and integration into global value chains.

“If the aid flows decline, I think the situation will be serious,” said Gore, who is also head of the Policy Analysis and Research Branch in the Division for Africa.

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