The Least Developed Countries represent the poorest and weakest segment of the international community. They comprise more than 880 million people (about 12 per cent of world population), but account for less than 2 percent of world GDP and about 1 percent of global trade in goods.
Their low level of socio-economic development is characterized by weak human and institutional capacities, low and unequally distributed income and scarcity of domestic financial resources. They often suffer from governance crisis, political instability and, in some cases, internal and external conflicts. Their largely agrarian economies are affected by a vicious cycle of low productivity and low investment. They rely on the export of few primary commodities as major source of export and fiscal earnings, which makes them highly vulnerable to external terms-of-trade shocks. Only a handful has been able to diversify into the manufacturing sector, though with a limited range of products in labour-intensive industries, i.e. textiles and clothing. These constraints are responsible for insufficient domestic resource mobilization, low economic management capacity, weaknesses in programme design and implementation, chronic external deficits, high debt burdens and heavy dependence on external financing that have kept LDCs in a poverty trap.
The category of LDCs was officially established in 1971 by the UN General Assembly with a view to attracting special international support for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the UN family.
The current list of LDCs includes 49 countries (the newest member being South Sudan); 34 in Africa, 14 in Asia and the Pacific and 1 in Latin America. For LDC country profiles, click here.
* Also a Small Island Developing State
# Also a Landlocked Developing Country
UN Programmes of Action in support of LDCs
The UN System’s efforts to reverse LDCs’ increasing marginalization in the global economy and put them on a path to sustained, accelerated, pro-poor growth and development dated back to the 1980s.
In the late 1960s, the United Nations began paying special attention to the LDCs, recognizing those countries as the most vulnerable of the international community. The International Development Strategy for the second UN Development Decade for the 1970s incorporated special measures in favour of the LDCs. In order to generate international attention and action to reverse the continuing deterioration of the socio-economic condition of these most vulnerable countries, the First United Nations Conference on the LDCs was held in Paris in 1981. It adopted a comprehensive Substantial New Programme of Action for the 1980s for the LDCs. To continue focus on the need for special measures for these countries, the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-II) was held in 1990, also in Paris, adopting the Paris Declaration and the Programme of Action for the LDCs for the 1990s. The Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-III) was held in 2001 in Brussels, hosted by the European Union, and it adopted the Brussels Declaration and the Brussels Programme of Action for the LDCs for the Decade 2001 – 2010.
The United Nations Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) was established by General Assembly Resolution 56/227 as a follow-up mechanism to LDC-III to ensure effective follow-up, implementation, monitoring and review of the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for the LDCs for the Decade 2001 – 2010, adopted at that conference.
Despite three successive Programmes of Action and notwithstanding the positive developments recorded by LDCs in the recent past, most of these countries are far from meeting the internationally agreed goals, including the MDGs, and still face massive development challenges. Progress in economic growth has made little dent on poverty and social disparities in LDCs. Hunger and malnutrition are widespread with dire consequences for the large vulnerable populations.
With a view to exactly tackle that emergency and to reinvigorate the pledge in support of LDCs’ development and transformation, the international community met in Istanbul, Turkey, for the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV). LDC-VI, which took place from 9 to 13 May 2011, provided a major opportunity to deepen the global partnership in support of LDCs and set the framework for development cooperation for the next decade. The UN-OHRLLS is the coordinator of the LDC-IV process, including follow-up activities.
More than 8,900 accredited participants, including 36 Heads of State or Government, 200 parliamentarians, including 10 speakers, 96 ministers and 60 heads of the UN and other international organizations as well as more than 1500 civil society representatives and 500 business leaders attended the Conference.