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Q&A: Looking to a World Without LDCs

Rousbeh Legatis interviews DR. ARJUN K. KARKI, International Coordinator of LDC Watch

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 5 2011 (IPS) - Maximising time, energy and resources toward improving living conditions for millions of people in the poorest countries of the world – the so-called Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – means that the “business-as-usual” approach must yield to a holistic strategy, says Arjun Karki, a longtime expert on grassroots, democratic peace-building and development.

Arjun Karki Credit: Courtesy of Arjun Karki

Arjun Karki Credit: Courtesy of Arjun Karki

With an eye on the upcoming Fourth U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV) in May, Karki underscores that unless there is a decisive shift, the world is heading toward “another unproductive decade” in terms of LDC policy- making.

The major gathering of head of states, civil society and the private sector in Istanbul represents a “historical opportunity” to “pave the road of translating rhetoric into action”, Karki says.

Rethinking old patterns would make it possible to halve the number of LDCs by 2020, he argues.

For more than 10 years, LDC Watch has monitored policy- making and the outcomes for people on the ground. U.N. correspondent Rousbeh Legatis spoke to Karki about flaws in the past and his hopes for the future. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How serious is the economic crisis facing the 49 LDCs? Does it relate to aid, economic growth, trade or lack of foreign investments? A: In the context of today’s highly globalised world characterised by trade liberalisation, the economic crisis has certainly adversely affected the LDCs in terms of reduced trade, FDI [foreign direct investment] and more conspicuously, remittance inflows.

It’s totally unjustifiable that the LDCs have to bear the burden of the economic crisis that was not created by them and which has further worsened other crises of food prices, fuel, debt and climate change in LDCs. Such external shocks of the international economy exacerbate LDC economies already challenged by extreme resource constraints. Needless to say, we’re witnessing drastic cuts in aid that will further make matters worse vis-a-vis development financing.

Q: Since the U.N. General Assembly created the special category of LDCs in the 1970s, there are only two countries, Botswana and Cape Verde, which have “graduated”, indicating an improvement of their economies. Do you expect any other countries to follow suit? Or do you expect the number of LDCs to increase from the current 49 judging by the ongoing global financial crisis? A: To be precise, with the graduation of the Maldives in January 2011, we now have 48 LDCs, which however doesn’t dilute the bitter fact that the figure has doubled from 24 when first recognised in 1971. Hence, the last four decades of development failure urges us for a radical departure wherein we take a holistic approach to development that goes beyond economic growth and embraces human development in terms of productive capacities, social protection, equity and human security.

Moreover, LDCs are not only about economic vulnerability but also about inherent geographical and environmental constraints amongst others, which have been aggravated by the alarming climate change hazards today. Therefore, both poverty and vulnerability are endemic in LDCs. The key thrust of the new-generation development action in Istanbul must therefore envisage the graduation of at least half the number of LDCs by 2020.

Q: How much of the Brussels Programme of Action on LDCs adopted 10 years ago remains unimplemented, and why is this so? A: First and foremost, the Brussels Programme had its limitations with regard to a pro-poor focus in the sense of so-called special development attention to LDCs, and LDC Watch has always positioned itself with a critical perspective towards it. We have called to go beyond the Brussels Programme in addressing poverty, hunger, vulnerability, social injustices and human rights in LDCs.

Moreover, its implementation has fallen far short of its expected outcomes, which only proves the lack of political will and sheer apathy of both LDC and development partner governments. For instance, the ODA [overseas development aid] commitment of 0.15-0.20 percent of GNI to LDCs stands at only 0.09 percent by the 2010 deadline.

The other key reason identified out of our decade-long observations and analyses is the absence of concrete follow- up mechanisms for sustained monitoring and review, which obviously failed to maintain or even scale up the momentum of 2001 onto 2010. And, this particular point also factors in the limited space and role of civil society to play its desired part in the process.

Q: What do you expect to come out of the upcoming LDC IV conference in Istanbul in May? Will there be a concrete plan of action? Or do you expect the conference to be an exercise in futility? A: Ideally, I expect the upcoming Istanbul Programme of Action to be both quantitatively and qualitatively different than the Brussels Programme else the LDC-IV will indeed be an exercise in futility.

As I mentioned earlier, the Istanbul Programme of Action must focus on and address the twin issues of poverty and vulnerability with an integrated approach not in isolation. The UN LDC IV provides a historical opportunity to come up with an ambitious agenda that underscores graduation with a vision of reducing at least half the number of LDCs by 2020.

A global campaign on LDCs along the lines of concrete implementation and follow-up mechanisms including capacity- building of the UN-OHRLLS as well as other stakeholders engaged in defending LDC interests must be a key commitment and outcome in Istanbul. All in all, Istanbul must pave the road of translating rhetoric into action, towards a world without LDCs.

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