By Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island States

Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and development partners met in Brussels in May 2001 for the Third United Nations Least Developed Countries Conference (UN LDC-III) and adopted the Brussels Declaration and the Programme of Action (POA) for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010. The Brussels Declaration reaffirms the collective responsibility of the international community to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, and to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force, as set out in the Millennium Declaration.

When we look back at the First and Second United Nations Least Developed Countries Conference (1981 and 1991), it is disappointing that these two conferences produced little impact in the LDCs. According to UN estimates, the number of people living on less than US$1 a day in the LDCs will reach at least 420 million by 2015 if current trends continue. In the second half of the 1990s, almost nine out of ten people in African LDCs were living on less than US$2 a day. These countries, with over 600 million people, face formidable obstacles, which include high population growth, lack of infrastructure and environmental constraints – including water shortages – declining terms of trade, barriers to market access for their products, declining external resource flows, and external debt problems.

UN LDC-III was considered a turning point in many ways. The Brussels POA differs from the earlier programmes in terms of its objectives, orientation, scope and follow-up arrangements. It provides a framework for a strong global partnership to accelerate sustained economic growth and sustainable development in these countries, as well as a framework for putting an end to marginalization. Poverty eradication, gender equality, employment, governance, capacity building, and the challenges faced by LDCs affected by conflict, are singled out in the POA as cross-cutting issues. The ultimate goal of the POA is to achieve substantial progress towards meeting the Millennium Declaration goal of reducing extreme poverty by half by 2015, and promote sustainable development.

The POA is focused on seven specific areas of commitment: (i) fostering a people-centred policy framework; (ii) good governance at the national and international levels; (iii) building human and institutional capacities; (iv) building productive capacities to make globalization work for the LDCs; (v) enhancing the role of trade and development; (vi) reducing vulnerability and protecting the environment; and (vii) mobilizing financial resources.

To undertake the follow-up and coordination of the implementation of the POA, the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) was established on the recommendation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 56/227 of 24 December 2001. The Office of the High Representative (OHRLLS), located at UN headquarters in New York, aims to enhance the mobilization and galvanization of international support for – and ensuring the effective coordination of – the implementation of the Brussels POA.

My Office will begin with a three-pronged approached; (i) placing the issue of LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS high on the intergovernmental agenda through appropriate legislative mandates, as needed; (ii) centering its focus on Africa; and (iii) establishing country-level mechanisms for implementation. It will promote linkages with civil society including NGOs involved in development efforts of LDCs as well as the private sector, academia and foundations, in an attempt to forge closer cooperation to respond more capably to LDC concerns.

With its mandate of coordination and advocacy for the effective implementation of the Brussels POA, the OHRLLS is eager to promote dialogue with the NGOs and civil society. NGOs, with their experience in collaborative and participatory approaches, can help build bridges and establish channels of communication and cooperation between people and communities on one side, and governments, development institutions, and funding agencies on the other. NGOs have the ability and commitment to work with the poor and other excluded segments of society, but they also need support to enhance their capacity and means to fulfil their job.

On many occasions in the past few years, we have seen how NGOs from the LDCs and developed and developing countries came together using new technology such as e-mail and the Internet, and have built coalitions, such as the campaign to ban landmines, and the coalition for the International Criminal Court (ICC). And, perhaps the most impressive of all was the Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign.

With such coalitions, NGOs can continue to bring more LDC concerns to the international development agenda. Much development work in LDCs is attributable to NGOs-campaigns promoting literacy; the fight against HIV/AIDS and care of AIDS orphans; environmental education; as well as debt cancellation.

I would like to call on the NGO communities of the LDCs and other developed and developing countries to be active contributors in the LDCs through assisting them in the effective implementation of the Brussels POA. In the coming months, the OHRLLS will make every effort to work more closely with the NGOs and civil society. The combined efforts of all development partners would also contribute to cover substantial ground towards realizing the Millennium Development Goal of halving the numbers living in poverty by 2015.

* Source:United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), Go Between no. 92 (June-July 2002): p. 36.