5 things you need to know about the world’s least developed country

The Conference of Least Developed Countries or LDCs takes place every 10 years and this year’s meeting from 5 to 9 March 2023, known as LDC5, will focus on bringing the needs of the 46 designated countries back to the top of the global agenda and support them as they strive to get back on track to sustainable development.

Bikenibeu village in South Tarawa, Kiribati.

Bikenibeu village in South Tarawa, Kiribati.

1. What is a least developed country?

The least developed countries (LDCs) are countries listed by the United Nations as showing the lowest indicators of socio-economic development across a range of indices. All LDCs have a gross national income per capita (GNI) of less than USD$1,018; compare that with nearly $71,000 in the United States, $44,000 in France, $9,900 in Turkey and $6,530 in South Africa, according to World Bank data.

These countries also score low on the nutrition, health, school enrollment and literacy indicators and score high on economic and environmental vulnerability, which measures factors such as remoteness, dependence on agriculture and exposure to natural disasters.

There are currently 46 LDCs, the vast majority of which are in Africa [see box below]. The list is reviewed every three years by the UN’s Economic and Social Council. Six countries have graduated from LDC status between 1994 and 2020.

2. What are the challenges facing the least developed countries?

Today, the 46 LDC countries are home to around 1.1 billion people, that is 14 percent of the world’s population, and more than 75 percent of these people still live in poverty.

More than other countries, the LDC countries are at risk of increasing poverty and remaining in a situation of underdevelopment. They are also vulnerable to external economic shocks, natural and man-made disasters, infectious diseases and decisive climate change.

Currently, the planet is on track to warm by around 2.7°C this century, which would destroy the LDC. These countries have contributed the least to carbon emissions, and yet face some of the greatest risks from climate change.

Meanwhile, LDCs are among those most affected by COVID-19; all but eight experienced negative growth rates in 2020, and the pandemic is predicted to last longer than in wealthier countries.

Debt is a major problem for all LDCs: four are classified as in debt distress (Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Sudan) and 16 LDCs are at high risk of debt distress.

As such, LDCs require the highest level of attention from the international community.

A 5-month-old girl at Paktia Regional Hospital in Gardez, Afghanistan, receives therapeutic milk to treat malnutrition.

A 5-month-old girl at Paktia Regional Hospital in Gardez, Afghanistan, receives therapeutic milk to treat malnutrition.

3. How can the UN and the international community help LDCs?

The UN system’s efforts to reverse the increasing marginalization of LDCs in the global economy and put them on the path to sustainable growth and development go back to the 1960s.

Since then, the UN has given special attention to LDCs, recognizing them as the most vulnerable in the international community and granting them certain benefits, including:

  • Development funding: especially grants and loans from donors and financial institutions.
  • Multilateral trading system: such as preferential market access and special treatments.
  • Technical assistance: especially towards supporting trade.

The first LDC conference was held in Paris, France in 1981 and LDC5, which marked the 50th the anniversary was supposed to be held in March 2022, but was postponed until this year due to COVID.

A child holds a pan of grasshoppers in a camp for internally displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A child holds a pan of grasshoppers in a camp for internally displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

4. What is the Doha Program of Action?

The Doha Program of Action (or DPoA, for acronym lovers!) is the development roadmap for LDCs agreed in March 2022.

It includes six main focus areas:

  1. Ending poverty and building capacity.
  2. Harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation to combat vulnerabilities and achieve the SDGs.
  3. Support structural transformation as a driver of prosperity.
  4. Strengthen international trade with LDCs and regional integration.
  5. Addressing climate change, environmental degradation, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and building resilience to future shocks.
  6. Mobilize international solidarity and revive global partnerships.

The full implementation of the DPoA will help LDCs deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting negative socio-economic impacts and enable them to get back on track to achieve the SDGs, including addressing climate change.

The full text of the Doha Program of Action is available here in the 6 official UN languages.

Haiti is the only country in the Americas designated as an LDC.

© UNICEF/Georges Harry Rouzier

Haiti is the only country in the Americas designated as an LDC.

5. What can we expect from LDC5?

The UN, LDCs, heads of state and government, development partners, the private sector, civil society, parliamentarians and youth will come together to agree on partnerships, commitments, innovations and plans in an effort to achieve the SDGs.

The UN Secretary-General will speak at the conference and has already highlighted the importance of supporting LDCs.

“The Doha Action Program reminds us that global recovery depends on LDCs getting the support they need. They need bold investments in health, education and social protection systems – all the resources required to fully implement the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

As LDCs take the first step towards these goals, they will reach certain targets that will enable them to graduate from least developed country status.

Six countries have gone through this process: Botswana (in 1994), Cape Verde (2007), Maldives (2011), Samoa (2014), Equatorial Guinea (2017) and Vanuatu (2020).

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