Under-Secretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury: Despite constraints, LDCs doing ‘remarkably well’
 
Thalif Deen
 
UNITED NATIONS – When the Third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) took place in May 2001 in Brussels, its Programme of Action (PoA) called for “substantial progress” towards halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger in the world’s 50 poorest nations.
 
Five years later, the LDCs have generally grown faster than other developing nations, significantly so if China and India are excluded, while there has also been a decline in conflicts, a critical factor in improving development prospects.
 
At the same time, the current rate of growth – roughly moving close to the target of 7.0 percent – has not helped reduce extreme poverty and hunger, while the spread of HIV/AIDS is diluting some of the hard-won economic gains.
 
In an interview with IPS on the eve of a high-level meeting mandated to do a mid-term global review of the PoA, Under- Secretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said: “I believe that during the last five years, the LDCs initiated many reforms and took wide-ranging actions for implementing the commitments they made in the Brussels Programme covering its seven areas of commitments from policy-making to capacity development, to governance, to environment.”
 
Asked about the successes and failure of the PoA, he said: “The needs of the LDCs are of such magnitude and also because the development process takes a while to bear fruits, it would be inappropriate to term the slow progress in some areas as failures. As a matter of fact, LDCs have done remarkably well in a number of areas given the multifarious impediments that they continue to face because of their structural constraints. “The development partners need to encourage the LDCs by providing substantive support. Since Brussels, HIV/AIDS, natural disasters and conflicts have presented additional challenges for these most vulnerable countries.”
 
Since the creation in 1971 of LDCs as a new category of member states needing special assistance, only one country, Botswana, has graduated. The number of LDCs has also more than doubled since the 1970s. Is this symbolic of the failure of the UN and the international community towards LDCs?
 
The doubling of the number of LDCs since the category was created in 1971 is a reality of the global economic and social situation. On the other hand, it must be recognized that the international community, particularly the United Nations system, has given special attention to the LDCs as never before. We should also recognize that quite a few countries have been identified by the General Assembly as well as recommended by the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) in recent years for graduation from the list of LDCs. As I said, development is a long process and it takes time to show results.
 
As oil prices keep skyrocketing and the global economy is threatened with recession, do you expect more developing nations to join the ranks of LDCs? If so, who are the potential candidates?
 
Yes, the oil price hike has seriously affected the economic situation in many of the developing nations, but that should not necessarily result in their immediate inclusion in the ranks of the LDCs. The inclusion is decided by the CDP on the basis of specific criteria that include human assets index that isbased on indicators of nutrition, health, education and adult literacy.
 
How many of the LDCs are expected to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, including eradication of poverty by the 2015 deadline? If not, what are the constraints facing them?
 
Not many LDCs, according to the present scorecard, would be meeting all the MDGs by 2015. However, some of them have achieved considerable success in meeting at least the Goals like school enrolment and access to safe drinking water. The main constraints faced by the LDCs are their existing development challenges, particularly the lack of capacity and infrastructure compounded by paucity of resources. All these have been made worse by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly in many of the 34 African LDCs.
 
Although Official Development Assistance (ODA) to LDCs doubled between 1999 and 2004 to a record $25 billion, UNCTAD says these increase increases were driven mainly by debt relief and humanitarian emergencies to countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. How valid is this argument?
 
Yes, some of the increase in ODA last year could be ascribed to debt relief and humanitarian emergencies. But, I believe that debt relief would release the resources that an LDC would otherwise pay for debt servicing, and that money could be used for poverty reduction and related programmes. An LDC struck by natural or man made disasters always needs special support through humanitarian assistance to cope with the emergencies and restore their countries back to normalcy. So, on both counts, the LDCs have at their disposal additional resources.
 
You have made a formal proposal urging oil producing nations to earmark a tiny fraction of their rising income to LDCs. How confident are you of a positive response to this proposal?
 
My proposal made at the ECOSOC last July for 10-cents-a-barrel contribution by all major oil producing countries has been welcomed, but no concrete response has been received. We will continue to advocate for this proposal to generate resources for infrastructure development in the LDCs for the next ten years. I am hopeful that some positive results will come out of it.