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U.N. to Focus on Poorest of the World’s Poor

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2010 (IPS) - The United Nations, which is planning to hold a major international conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) next year, has been put on notice: if the mounting social and economic problems of poorer nations are not resolved, “There will be no peace and stability in the world.”

The warning came from the co-chairman of a “panel of eminent persons”, who are expected to raise awareness of the urgent needs of the 49 LDCs, described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”, struggling for survival against severe economic odds.

Alpha Oumar Konare, a former president of Mali, told reporters Wednesday that pledges to provide assistance to LDCs should be honoured.

“We need a political message of commitment,” said Konare, who co-chairs, along with former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, the nine-member panel mandated to prepare a report “that will be used as an advocacy tool to drum up support” for the development of LDCs.

“I don’t like reports,” Konare told reporters. “Think of all the thousands of reports gathering dust.” What is needed, he said, is the commitment of the international community to meet the promises and pledges made so far.

The 49 LDCs – consisting of 33 in Africa, 15 in Asia and one in the Caribbean – comprise over 800 million people and are described as “the poorest and the most vulnerable segment of humanity at the very epicentre of the developmental emergency”.

The United Nations has held three major global conferences on LDCs: the first and second in Paris in 1981 and 1991, and the third in Brussels in 2001 – all of them aimed at mobilising global support for the upliftment of LDCs.

The General Assembly last year decided to convene a fourth U.N. conference (LDC IV) scheduled to take place May 30-Jun. 3 next year in Istanbul, Turkey.

Asked what gains LDCs made at the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit last month, Under-Secretary- General Cheick Sidi Diarra told IPS the 27-member European Union (EU) offered funding amounting to one billion euros (about 1.4 billion dollars) to “the most committed and needy countries to make progress on the goals they are furthest from achieving”.

“Undoubtedly,” he said, “the LDC agenda gained greater visibility at this year’s summit and throughout many of the sessions it became clear that delegates were of the opinion that there would be no MDGs without LDCs.”

Belgium pledged 400,000 euros for the upcoming conference in Turkey while China committed to provide zero-tariff treatment to more products from LDCs and to continue to cancel their debts, said Diarra, who is the U.N. High Representative for LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and also the U.N.’s Special Adviser on Africa.

However, former World Bank chief Wolfensohn cautioned that “the simple answer is not just more money”.

”It is very clear in the developing countries themselves that we cannot deal with development unless we look at the question of governance and shared responsibility,” he told reporters.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Wednesday that while LDCs have undoubtedly achieved “some progress, nearly half the population of these 49 countries – some 800 million people – continue to face conditions of absolute poverty and misery”.

“They lack access to basic social services and their economies, they suffer from weak human and institutional capacities, and they are acutely susceptible to external shocks, natural and man-made disasters and communicable diseases,” he added.

Since 1981, he pointed out, the United Nations has been implementing decade-long development programmes for the LDCs. The latest one, the Brussels Programme of Action, adopted at the last LDC conference in the Belgian capital, expires next year.

Yet there is a tremendous amount of unfinished business. And this, Ban said, has been exacerbated by the impact of multiple global crises that have imposed unsustainable pressure on already vulnerable economies and the gains made by the MDGs in reducing poverty and hunger.

“It is no exaggeration to call this a development emergency. The aim of next year’s Fourth United Nations Conference on the LDCs in Turkey is to tackle it,” he declared.

The agenda of the upcoming conference will include issues of significant interest to LDCs, including aid, trade, foreign direct investment, remittances, transfer of technology, debt relief and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

“The agenda is packed and expectations are high,” Ban added.

Asked about a meeting on LDCs held in Portugal last week, Diarra told IPS: “What resonated at the Lisbon meeting was a convergence of opinion that what has been achieved so far is not sufficient and something very special needs to be done for LDCs if they are to be brought into the mainstream of the global development trajectory.”

He also said that delegates at the meeting reaffirmed the traditional measures, and also underlined the need for new generation of support measures for LDCs.

The 49 LDCs range from Angola, Afghanistan and Benin to Bhutan, Uganda and Zambia.

When the economic status of a LDC improves significantly, it “graduates” from a LDC to a developing country. Botswana was the first LDC to graduate, and in the last 10 years, only one other country has graduated: Cape Verde.

The Maldives is set to graduate at the end of this year, while Samoa was granted an extension of the transition period.

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