Agenda item 6
Substantive session of ECOSOC
Geneva, 19 July 2007
I am pleased to introduce the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Programme of Action of the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010, the first report after the midterm comprehensive review by the General Assembly last year.
The report this year shows that strong economic performance of LDCs continues, with fewer countries, mainly Pacific islands, lagging behind. International support to health is paying dividends and social indicators are also improving, but overall socio-economic performance on African LDCs has been significantly compromised by continuing population growth driven by the highest in the world fertility.
It is projected that at the current fertility rate, the population of LDCs could surpass 2.7 billion by 2050, and could still reach 1.7 billion, at the reduced fertility rate. Currently, 41 per cent of populations of LDCs are children under 14 and only 5 per cent of their populations are elderly people over 60. This makes the LDCs the youngest populations in the world, with a median age of 19 years old. However, in Mali, Niger and Uganda the median age of populations is even lower: either at, or below 16. Life expectancy in LDCs is also low: 51 years old. This suggests that many LDCs are still at the first stage of demographic transition characterized by high fertility and high mortality, especially among children. Thus, 42 per cent of all deaths in the LDCs are children under the age of 5, compared to 16 per cent of deaths among persons over 65.
As hygiene, nutrition and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases improve, deaths will be increasingly shifted from children to older people. This “epidemiological transition” could trigger the decline of fertility as parents realize that they need fewer children to ensure the survival of the desired number. It will also increase the longevity of life as the death toll falls among adults. By 2050, the least developed countries will still have relatively young populations but the proportion of children in LDCs will decline to 29 per cent and the proportion of elderly people over 60 will reach 10 per cent. As a result, the median age in LDCs would reach 28 years old but, most importantly, the percentage of youth between 15 and 24 and adults between 25 and 59 will increase from 53 per cent in 2007 to 61 per cent in 2050.
This dramatic change of the population structure would lead to the decrease of the child dependency ratio (number of children under 15 to the number of persons aged 15 to 59) and the increase of the economic support ratio (the number of “effective “producers” per the number of effective consumers”). It will provide the LDCs with a demographic window of opportunity or “the first demographic dividend” when every percentage point increase in the economic support ratio translates into an equivalent increase in the income per effective consumer. The bulge of adult population of working age can deepen extreme poverty in LDCs but can also increase their productivity, output and earnings, generate wealth and improve the standard of living of the population if the governments continue to pursue low fertility policies and jobs are created for the additional workforce entering the labour market.
Creating productive employment and decent work for youth and adults is one of the greatest challenges in reaping the first demographic dividend in the LDCs where growth is mainly concentrated in extracting (oil and mineral) industries and, so far, has failed to benefit most of the poor who live in rural areas and depend in their income on agriculture.
Although agriculture is the backbone of economy in many LDCs, productive absorption of labour within agriculture is not occurring and more poor people are seeking employment outside agriculture than ever while agricultural productivity is steadily declining due chronic underinvestment in agriculture, particularly in research and technology, rural infrastructure, irrigation systems, as well as due to the lack of access of the poor to land, credit, domestic and international markets. Low agricultural productivity, environmental degradation and challenges associated with the climate change combined with rapid urbanization and fast population growth could lead to food shortages, disruption of food supplies and famine in LDCs. Particularly vulnerable are African LDCs where malnutrition seems to be worsening just when extremely poverty began to decline.
Achieving the objectives of the Brussels Programme of making substantial progress toward halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger by 2015 requires greater donor focus on enhancing the productive capacity of the LDCs, in particular in agriculture. Donors need to increase allocation of aid to physical infrastructure and technological development as a means of increasing productivity and competitiveness of the LDCs. Above all, donors need to make significant efforts to increase aid volumes in order to achieve the 0.15 – 0.20 per cent GNI/ODA target by 2010.
The report states that despite recent pledges, donors are falling behind the internationally agreed goals. In 2005, only 6 out of 22 donors met the 0.20 per cent target, down from 7 in 2004, and an additional 1 donor was on track to meet this target in 2010, down from 3 in 2004. The remaining 15 donors were far from achieving this target, including 7 with declining or unchanged GNI/ODA. Total net flows of ODA continued to increase in 2005 but ODA as percentage of GNI remained at the level of 2004. Worse, ODA as per cent of GNI of the DAC members has dropped by 6 points and ODA as per cent of GNI of the DAC/EU members has decreased by 9 points from 2004.
Donor support to trade related capacity building in the LDCs fell from US$ 691million in 2001 to US$ 409 million in 2005. As share of total ODA to the LDCs, donors’ assistance to trade capacity building in LDCs decreased from 4.4 per cent in 2001 to 1.6 per cent in 2005. Excluding arms and oil, duty free access for the products from LDCs to the developed countries’ market has increased only by 1 per cent since 1996 and tariffs of the developed countries on the LDCs’ imports have declined modestly in the last 10 years.
In the Millennium Declaration, the leaders of the word committed themselves to address the special needs of LDCs. This commitment was reaffirmed in the Brussels Declaration adopted at the Third United Nations Conference of the Least Developed Countries and later in outcomes of various UN conferences and summits, including the 2005 World Summit. Most recently, this commitment was reaffirmed in the Ministerial Declaration at the high-level meeting of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly on the midterm comprehensive global review of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010.
Commitments were made, goals and targets were set. What we need now are actions. Moreover, if the goals and the objectives of the Programme are achieved by 2010, we need urgent and bold actions. The Ministerial Conference of the Least Developed Countries “Making Globalization Work for LDCs” held a few days ago in Istanbul concluded with the adoption of the Declaration “Time for Action”. I cannot agree more with the title: it’s time to act.
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