Ladies and Gentlemen,
A good morning to all of you. It is indeed a great pleasure and privilege for me to have been invited to address the 123rd Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting on Parliaments and the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries. My presence here today is also timely as it provides me with an opportunity to share with you the progress achieved so far in our collective journey towards the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which will take place from May 30 – 4 June 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Allow me also to acknowledge the Honourable Vice President of Portugal’s Assembly Mr. Pacheco, who has taken time out of his busy schedule to be with us today. It is indeed an honour to have you amongst us today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to begin my address today by briefing you on the current trends and outstanding challenges facing the group of 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The good news is that for the LDCs, GDP growth on average in 2008 reached the targeted seven percent set by the Brussels Programme. This - might I add – is particularly encouraging given the difficult economic conditions which prevailed at the time.
However, when dealing with such a diverse group of countries, economic performance is always mixed. Findings in the latest Secretary-General’s report indicate that of the 49 countries, just 11 LDCs exceeded the seven percent target for growth, 10 of which are in Africa. Amongst the Asian LDCs, GDP growth slowed by almost two percentage points to 5.2 percent. A particularly worrying development was the steep decline in GDP in the Pacific countries from 7.4 percent in 2007 to 3.5 percent in 2008. This was driven in part by the increase in transport costs, and lower tourists’ receipts. I ought to remark that the tragic earthquake that struck Haiti in January earlier this year was truly devastating destroying the economy and much of the country’s infrastructure.
Against this backdrop, food security remains a concern for the LDCs. Nearly half of the LDCs are considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as experiencing a food crisis requiring external assistance or being at risk of crisis owing to high commodity prices, which are likely to remain higher and more volatile than in the past decade. Given the increasing importance of biofuels, even an increase in cereal yields may not necessarily reduce prices, as grain prices might be determined by oil prices in the future. I have mentioned in various fora that this current state of food insecurity is untenable and requires an urgent need to focus our attention more on the development of the agricultural sector.
The reality is that there have been few inroads into overcoming chronic poverty in the LDCs. In the face of limited progress in reducing extreme poverty, there is a clear need for creating sustainable employment and increasing agricultural productivity. I should add that this should go hand-in-hand with increased measures to strengthen social protection, with a particular focus on developing human capacity in all of the LDCs. Currently their expenditure on social protection is among the lowest in the world. Measures that have been successively introduced in some LDCs, which include school feeding programmes, cash for work, targeted transfers and risk insurance are related to agricultural production and health, however the factors that lead to the success of such measures need to be better understood and best practices should be shared among the LDCs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I cannot sufficiently emphasize the paramount importance of building human and institutional capacities as these form the backbone for sustainable development. Commitment 3 of the Brussels Programme focuses on education, health and other social services. It is indeed a positive development to report that most LDCs are making progresses toward achieving universal primary enrolment. The number of countries with enrolment ratios below 65 per cent fell from 16 in 2000 to 4 in 2008. However, there are some indications that the rate of progress is slowing. Undoubtedly, the effects of extreme poverty, which often result in child labour prevents access to education unless the education system takes the special needs of these group’s into account.
What has emerged is that inequalities with respect to wealth, gender, ethnicity, language and location are now considered as one of the major barriers to access to essential services in the LDCs.
Proceedings at the recently-concluded Millennium Development Goals Review Summit in New York revealed a marked difference between urban and rural areas. For instance, in almost all LDCs more than 60 percent of the urban population has access to improved drinking water, whereas such access is enjoyed by the rural population in only half of them. Proper sanitation is a growing concern, in LDCs , not only by the allocation of resources but also by the growing demand owing to demographic factors and increased use by the private sector.
One of the most serious impediments which thwart LDC development is the critical lack of productive capacity. Commitment 4 of the Brussels Programme of Action focuses exclusively on the structural transformation that is needed to accelerate development. It is startling fact that just 16 percent of the LDC population have access to electricity compared to 53 percent in developing countries. Twenty two percent of roads are paved in LDCs compared with 43 percent in developing countries and 88 percent in OECD countries.
A chief concern of mine is the serious lack of agricultural productivity in LDCs, which is as a result of underinvestment, abolishment of support systems, including input subsidies and extension services, and limited availability of credit, which results in declining land fertility and crop quality.
Ladies and Gentleman,
Since the adoption of the Brussels Programme, the LDCs have made considerable efforts to mobilize domestic resources for their development to ensure the sustainability of funding for national development priorities. However, their domestic savings stagnated around 13 percent GDP. Only the oil-producing countries experienced negative savings rates. Thus, most LDCs still face a huge financing gap, which is likely to have increased in 2009 on account of the current global financial economic crisis.
The LDCs continue to rely on external financial resources, especially official development assistance (ODA) for their development. Net ODA flows to the LDCs, excluding debt forgiveness and technical assistance, in terms of volume, increased from 31.9 billions in 2007 to 37.0 billions in 2008. Aid distribution to the least developed countries was uneven and some countries experienced a decline in ODA in 2008. Total ODA in 2008 as a percentage of gross national income (0.09 percent), as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/ Development Assistance Committee, is considerably below the target 0.15 to 0.20 per cent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ten years after the adoption of the Brussels Programme of Action, we are heading to Istanbul with roughly the same number of LDCs that began the journey in 2001. Only one country, Cape Verde, has graduated from the group during the last decade. Thus it is evident that a renewed commitment to the partnership for LDCs and a new programme of Action is needed. It is apparent that the multiple challenges of poverty, food insecurity, global recession and climate change are all interrelated and in order to effectively deal with each of these, deeper partnerships and more coordinated efforts are required from both the international community and the LDCs themselves.
Forging greater partnerships in the fight against poverty is an essential premise of the upcoming Fourth United Nations Conference on the LDCs. Allow me to briefly apprise you of the progress achieved.
Preparations for LDC IV are well underway and we have been following a bottom-up approach starting from the country level.
National consultations took place throughout 2009 and involved a broad spectrum of stakeholders. The Asia-Pacific Regional Review, hosted by Bangladesh in January this year saw the adoption of the Dhaka Outcome Document, which was endorsed by ministers at UNESCAP’s 66th annual session. The African Regional Review took place in Ethiopia in March. The outcome was also endorsed by the joint African Union and ECA Conference of Ministers. Both documents stressed that implementing the Brussels Programme remains unfinished business.
My office, in collaboration with other UN agencies and international organisations, has scheduled an extensive series of thematic pre-conference events. Some events like the one on the impact of the global financial crisis on the productive capacities and trading relations of LDCs with UNIDO and the one on the role of migration and remittances with IOM and UNITAR have been successfully concluded.
Before coming to Geneva, I participated at the invitation of Portugal in a meeting in Lisbon to discuss the way forward for financing for development for LDCs. As you know all of these pre-conference events are expected to provide substantive inputs into a new Programme of Action.
The two sessions of the PrepCom to be held in New York in January and April of next year will give us a clearer idea of the content of a New Plan of Action. In order to ensure broad participation in the conference, my Office is working with civil society, parliamentarians and the private sector, within the three tracks of the Conference, so as to thoroughly include their views. We have also prepared a guide on mobilizing parliamentary support in collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and are planning a parliamentarian forum during LDC IV.
Since the UNLDC III Conference, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and my Office have established a fruitful partnership in promoting the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for the 2001-2010 Decade, especially in the areas of good governance and capacity building.
The IPU contributed to the Mid-term Review of the BPoA by encouraging LDC parliaments to be involved in the national reporting exercises and in the oversight of the further implementation of the BPoA. Jointly with UN-OHRLLS, the IPU organized a parliamentary panel on governance in the LDCs on the occasion of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly held in September 2006.
As I have mentioned parliaments have been closely involved in national and regional reviews of the Brussels Programme of Action as we prepare for LDC IV. This engagement has enabled parliamentarians to understand better the key issues and priorities emerging from the process of dialogue and appraisal and consensus building. They have also been able to contribute their own ideas and perspectives in the identification of priorities for LDC development in the next development decade.
Thematic priorities identified by the LDCs during these reviews include food security, enhancing productive capacity, improving agriculture productivity, improving access to technologies, managing climate change and the new green deal for LDCs, MDGs and universal access to essential services, good governance, gender equality, and mobilizing financial resources for LDCs development. Parliamentarians have thus been instrumental in identifying these thematic priorities.
Given the important role that parliaments play in implementing international commitments, the parliamentarian track of the UNLDC IV Conference will culminate with the organization of a Parliamentarian` Forum on the eve of the UNLDC IV Conference, on 29 May 2011.
This Forum should help in strengthening parliamentary ownership and proactive role in the follow-up and implementation of new international programme support measures. It is hoped that they will adopt a declaration that will feed into the substantive consideration of the outcome and possible New Programme of Action.
It will also provide them with an opportunity to draw up their plan of action towards enhancing the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the action plan at national level. It is my sincere wish that parliamentarians be fully involved and remains engaged in the implementation and follow-up of the New Programme of Action.
To conclude I would like to urge you continue with your good work in sensitising parliaments on LDC issues I count on your support to ensure that LDC IV is a success.