UN to chart out future devp agenda for 49 most vulnerable LDC

UN to chart out future devp agenda for 49 most vulnerable LDC

The 4th UN Conference on the Less Developed Countries (LDC) in Istanbul next month will frame a new programme of action to determine the development paradigm for the future.

"The exercise, though crucial, will not be easy," said Nagesh Kumar, chief economist and director, Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP).

"The developed world is seeking to shift its responsibility following the 2008 global economic crisis. They are reluctant to contribute the much-needed resources in the face of unemployment and economic crisis in their own countries," he said at a workshop organised by UN Information Centre here, ahead of the conference in Turkey from May 9-13.

Of the 49 LDCs, which are also "most vulnerable to natural and climate change related disasters", five of them are Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
Seventy-five per cent of the 885 million people constituting the LDCs live on less than USD 2 a day and "suffer from diseases long eradicated in other parts of the world".

LDCs' food import bill has surged from over USD 9 billion in 2002 to USD 24 billion in 2008.
"After the worst economic downturn in generations, the Official Development Aid (ODA) has become complicated as Western nations are cutting back on international aid due to their own problems," said Syed Nuruzzaman, head of Countries with Special Needs (CSN), Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division, UN-ESCAP.

For Nuruzzaman the LDCs need to stop looking to Western capitals for aid and deepen South-South and regional cooperation.

"Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar are fortunate to be located close to a rapidly growing India," said Nuruzzaman, a Bangladeshi who saw tremendous potential in regional cooperation.

Citing the example of Indo-Sri Lanka trade ties, which has expanded by 300 per cent in the past seven years, Kumar underlined the need for the LDCs of the sub SAARC region to take advantage of India's growth.

He said Nepal and Bhutan already have direct access to the huge Indian market. Bangladesh and Myanmar could use their proximity to India to graduate out of the LDC.

"The challenges are here, but the solutions are also here," Nuruzzaman underlined.
Asked about Indo-Bangladesh economic ties, he said, "Unlike 30 years ago, today you have the right kind of policy cooperation, and the political will to implement it."

The LDCs also lag on most indicators of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
"Their progress would be the key to a successful culmination of the MDG campaign as most of the LDCs remain off–track to attain them," underlined Kumar.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had asked all governments "to keep the promise" to deliver basic social and economic amenities to their people at the September 2010 MDGs Summit in New York.

Most experts believe it will be impossible to meet any of the goals, amid the failure of political leaders to commit more money and political will for the campaign.

The Istanbul meet is faced with growing cynicism amid the failure to fully implement the Programme of Action for the decade 2001-2011 adopted at the third conference in Brussels, Belgium. The first two LDC meetings were held in Paris in 1981 and 1990.

Most LDCs have simply been unable to generate sufficient productive employment opportunities in the manufacturing and services sectors.

"Movement forward has been minimum," said C P Chandrasekhar, professor at JNU's Centre for Economic Studies and Planning.

"Achievements on the human development front have not been adequate," he noted.
He said the Brussels Programme of Action (BPoA) "was not difficult to achieve", but underlined the need for "aid allocation to be restructured".

The fallout of the global economic crisis was severe on the LDCs, transmitted mainly through failing FDI inflows, the collapse of international trade and in some cases declining remittances.

The combined effect of financial meltdown and rising interest rate spreads "is expected to result in permanently higher debt burdens and debt service ratios."

While debt owed to official creditors remains below its level of the early 2000s, "in the median African LDCs it increased by 1.5 per cent of GDP between 2008 and 2009, to reach 25 per cent of GDP", according to the IMF.

"By April 2010, a total of 10 LDCs were in a situation of debt distress and other 10 were at high risk of debt distress," according to UNCTD's LDC report 2010.

Therefore, a case was made for debt relief for the LDCs, particularly those from the African nations who remain in virtual debt trap.

"Debt relief can release vital resources," said Anuradha Rajivan, of the UNDP Regional Resource Centre at Bangkok.

However, "debt relief should be an add-on to ODA, not be at cost of ODA," she underlined.

Therefore, the Istanbul conference must chalk out key objectives for the LDCs in coming 10 years.

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