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Addressing the needs of Least Developed Countries Background Paper for Discussion during June Executive Board Meeting The development context of the Least Developed Countries1

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Addressing the needs of Least Developed Countries
Background Paper for Discussion during June Executive Board Meeting

The development context of the Least Developed Countries1
Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are among the 48 most vulnerable countries in the world.2 Economic growth has been high in the year leading to the economic crisis, but remains fragile. It often does not benefit the population at large, comes at significant environmental costs, as indicated by the rate of resource depletion and environmental damages, and youth unemployment remains very high. . In instances where economic growth has taken place, significant problems of inequity and corruption remain. Many LDCs are also affected by internal conflicts, which is often the most significant reason for the lack of progress on MDGs and other development results. The LDCs are also disproportionately affected by international shocks beyond their control, from increased food and fuel prices and fall-out from the global economic crisis to the effects of climate change. Their challenges to overcome poverty and build resilience to external shocks are compounded by the difficulties LDCs face in expanding their participation in the global economy, and by the limited voice granted to them in key global institutions.
Furthermore, the economic, social and environmental development of the LDCs is strongly and inseparably linked to their population dynamics. It is the choices and opportunities enjoyed by individuals that often determine family size, and it is these choices and opportunities that can add-up to major demographic changes. Today the fastest growing populations are in the world’s least developed countries, which are hard pressed to meet the needs of growing populations. Between 2005 and 2010, the average fertility rate of the LDCs was 4.4 children per woman, compared with 2.4 in other developing countries. And the average population growth rate was 2.2 per cent, compared with 1.2 per cent in other developing countries.
Owing to high fertility, the population of the LDCs is expected to nearly double from 855 million to 1.7 billion between now and 2050. Over this period the working-age population of the LDCs will increase by about 15 million per year, and their labor force will increase by about 33 000 per day. A large and growing population of young people can be a driver for economic growth and social progress if they enjoy education, health and employment, but without these opportunities, a large share of young people will not be able to escape poverty. This is true in the rural areas, where the population will continue to grow, but it is especially true in the urban areas, where population growth is accelerating. UNFPA (2011)3 points out that the average annual rate of urban population growth in the LDCs is higher than anywhere else in the world. As a consequence, the urban population in LDCs will rise by around 116 million over the next decade while the rural population will increase by 88 million. By 2050, the urban population of LDCs will approach one billion.
Urbanization can be a powerful driver of economic and social progress if planning begins now. Cities can provide essential services, including health and education, at lower costs per capita and allow for the development of vital infrastructure, including housing, water, sanitation and transport. Urbanization can also reduce energy consumption, particularly in transport and housing, and create interactive spaces that further cultural outreach and exchange. But these positive benefits can only be realized with proactive planning.
According to the latest survey4 of the United Nations Population Division, about three-quarters of the governments of LDCs are concerned with, and seek to address, high fertility, high population growth and rapid urbanization. However, demographic change remains often inadequately addressed in development and poverty reduction strategies.
Yet, it is important to recognise the improvements that have been made. The number of countries with a democratic system of government has increased; economic growth has been steady in many, with an average of 7% growth rate achieved between 2002 and 2008.5 Importantly, many social advances have been made, particularly in the area of access to primary education. As the 2011 Human Development Report will highlight, six LDCs6 were in the higher “medium human development category”, largely due to gains in school enrollment and increased life expectancy. And trends in many post-conflict LDCs, from Rwanda to Timor-Leste to Sierra Leone, are increasingly encouraging. 
The UN Development Group and LDCs
UNDP is already working in all 48 LDCs to advance sustainable human development, addressing not only issues of inclusive economic growth, but also supporting national partners to ensure that everyone has the right to enjoy a decent standard of living and to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. This includes taking care that current development efforts do not undercut the future by destroying critical environments and resources. Achieving this will require all parts of society – government, private sector, and civil society – to take action together.
In addition to support in specific areas, the UNDG at country level will play an important role in supporting national partners in the implementation and follow-up of the Istanbul Programme of Action, as articulated in that document.
Strategic issues and considerations
This is a politically sensitive time for LDCs. In the aftermath of the LDC-IV Conference in Istanbul, which yielded few hard results for LDCs in either its political declaration or its Programme of Action, LDCs will approach the development conferences of 2011 and 2012 with an eye to how traditional and emerging donors will continue to negotiate on the development aid architecture, and into how this will translate into development aid for LDCs.

At the request of both LDCs and traditional donors, the Istanbul Programme of Action and its political declaration place emphasis on productive capacities as a “development multiplier”. The Programme of Action also highlights a series of LDC-specific actions to further development, including mobilizing and allocating domestic resources, tackling corruption and improving governance, and harmonizing and reforming policies and institutions. It is crucial, however, that LDCs receive support from UNDP, UNOPS, UNFPA and the rest of the UN System as we move towards 2015 and beyond. LDCs cannot shoulder their development challenge alone.

As traditional and emerging donors seek to define who is responsible for providing aid and how, the UN System can be a partner to LDCs not only programmatically in-country, but also as a provider of capacity-building aid not only in terms of institution-building and strengthening to safeguard development progress, but also in terms of building negotiation capacities. At Istanbul, it was difficult for LDCs to highlight their own priorities as emerging economies and traditional donors fought for political space in defining the aid architecture, with traditional donors seeking to formalize the support that emerging economies increasingly provide for LDCs in the document and with MICs resisting. Within the G77, it was difficult for both LDC and MIC priorities to be articulated in the group position. As delegations head into aid effectiveness discussions in Busan, dialogue on emissions commitments in Durban, and overarching negotiations on sustainable development in Rio, the UN System can be a partner to LDCs as they seek to define and articulate their development priorities separately from MICs, while still speaking as one voice with them within the G77.
Specific agency roles
United Nations Development Programme
In 2010, UNDP’s work in LDCs resulted in 23% of programme resources spent on poverty reduction and MDGs achievement; 32% of the expenditure was on democratic governance related activities; 36% on crisis prevention and recovery and 5% to support work on environment and sustainable development. While recognizing the considerable diversity among LDCs both in terms of their features – landlocked, small island developing states -, as well as the development gains that have been made and the challenges that remain, UNDP will base its support on the principles of demand-based assistance and national ownership. At the same time, given its comparative advantage, and the value added it can bring, UNDP will stress:

  1. Supporting MDG acceleration - UNDP stands ready to support LDCs in their efforts to identify institutional, governance and capacity bottlenecks to MDG progress and in finding solutions to these in partnership with governments, the wider UN family and other development partners. This includes through supporting the roll out of the UNDG MDG Acceleration Framework and advancing policy support in areas proven to leverage multiple results across MDGs, such as expanding access to energy and gender equality.

  1. Supporting the promotion of inclusive and sustainable growth - UNDP will support governments to promote growth processes that are inclusive: through a focus on decent employment and the use of appropriate social protection mechanisms. For resilience, UNDP will support governments at the local and national levels to minimize the risks they face from natural disasters and to recover from their effects. Over the medium to longer term, increasing resilience and sustainability should be grounded in efforts to transition to greener, low-carbon and climate resilient economies. Such a transition would not only increase resilience to environmental shocks but also to economic volatility through the creation of more competitive and sustainable economies.

  1. Promoting inclusive and equitable development – To ensure sustainable development, LDCs will need to ensure that all women and men have the security and freedom to express their views and demand accountability without suffering reprisal. In this endeavour, UNDP will support partners to strengthen democratic processes, strengthened institutions and the rule of law. This will require engaging with new, localized development partners, from youth groups to civil society organizations, and ensuring the equal participation of women and other marginalized groups in decision-making and planning processes.

UNDP is also well placed to work with the Government of Turkey in light of its announcement at LDC IV that it would allocate US$200 million annually to support LDCs in their development trajectory. This would be in line with the Partnership Framework Agreement between the Government of Turkey and the UNDP, whereby the two partners can work side by side on key issues pertaining to LDCs development, ranging from technology and knowledge transfer to energy and climate issues, as well as other technical and policy level coordination.

United Nations Population Fund
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA support the LDCs through country offices and regional offices, but it also supports the LDCs through its programmatic and technical work at the headquarters, which feeds into intergovernmental and interagency processes.
UNFPA works in partnership with governments, as well as with other agencies and civil society broadly, to advance its mission. Two frameworks serve to focus its efforts: The Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 and the Millennium Development Goals, which the international development community committed itself to six years later. Because the dates for achievement of these interconnected sets of goals and related targets are fast approaching, considerable work has been done in analyzing what has worked, and to galvanize support and a redoubling of efforts.
The three core areas of our work - reproductive health, gender equality and population and development strategies - are inextricably related. Population dynamics, including growth rates, age structure, fertility and mortality, migration and more, influence every aspect of human, social and economic development. Reproductive health and women's empowerment powerfully affect, and are affected by, population trends.

  1. Population and development strategies: Governments need to be able to gather adequate information about population dynamics and trends in order to create and manage sound policies and generate the political will to appropriately address both current and future needs. UNFPA assists countries in every aspect of this task, from developing capacity in data collection and analysis to participating in national, regional and global policy dialogue. Key areas of focus include migration, ageing, climate change and urbanization.

  1. Sexual and reproductive health: Working with a wide range of partners, UNFPA assists governments in delivering sexual and reproductive health care throughout the lifecycle of women. Access to reproductive health care helps to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, arrest the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, supports the empowerment of women and contributes to falling fertility rates. All of these remain top development objectives in the world’s poorest countries.

Areas of assistance include: Family planning, the ability for all individuals to obtain and use affordable, quality reproductive health supplies of their choice whenever they need them; antenatal, safe delivery and post-natal care; prevention and appropriate treatment of infertility; prevention of abortion and management of its consequences; treatment of reproductive tract infections; prevention, care and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; information, education and counseling, as appropriate, on human sexuality and reproductive health; prevention of violence against women, care for survivors of violence and other actions to eliminate traditional harmful practices; appropriate referrals for further diagnosis and management of the above.

  1. Gender equality and women's empowerment: UNFPA's gender framework incorporates four strategic linkages that address critical factors underlying inequalities and rights violations: girls' education, women's economic empowerment, women's political participation and the balancing of reproductive and productive roles.

The Fund brings gender issues to wider attention, and promotes legal and policy reforms and gender-sensitive data collection. It works to end gender-based violence, including traditional practices that harm women, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting. It also raises awareness of women's specific strengths, vulnerabilities and needs in relation to a variety of issues, such as humanitarian emergencies, climate change and migration. UNFPA also recognizes the rights, perspectives and influence of men and boys, and seeks to involve them in efforts to promote gender equality and improve reproductive health.

  1. Supporting adolescents and youth: Today about 60 per cent of the population in LDCs is under the age of 25, and by 2050 this population will have grown by another 60 per cent. UNFPA's 'four keys' to opening up opportunities for young people include incorporating youth issues into national development and poverty reduction strategies; expanding access to gender-sensitive sexual and reproductive health education that encourages the development of life skills; promoting a core package of health services and commodities for young people; and encouraging youth leadership and participation.

  1. Assisting in emergencies: The LDCs remain the main locus of conflicts in the world. In times of upheaval, pregnancy-related deaths and sexual violence soar. Reproductive health and obstetric services often become unavailable. Young people become more vulnerable to HIV infection and sexual exploitation. Within the coordinated, inter-agency response to disasters, UNFPA moves quickly when emergency strikes. The Fund takes the lead in providing supplies and services to protect reproductive health, with an emphasis on the special needs and vulnerabilities of women and young people.

UNFPA supports various data collection activities, including censuses to provide detailed information for planning and rapid health assessments to allow for appropriate, effective and efficient relief. It also assists stricken communities as they move beyond the acute crisis and enter the reconstruction phase.

UNFPA is strongly committed to contribute to the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action and to lending demand-driven support to the least developed countries at the country level:

  • The LDCs are automatically included in UNFPA’s priority list of countries, which are the focus of both its financial and technical assistance. Between 2001 and 2009, UNFPA has increased its resources allocated to priority countries from USD 120.7 million to USD 337.8 million, or from 64.4 per cent to 73.5 per cent of its total resources allocated for country activities.

  • UNFPA supports LDCs, on a demand driven basis, in (i) the population situation analysis, (ii) the evaluation of the linkages between population dynamics and development challenges and objectives, as well as (iii) the integration of population dynamics and interrelated issues -- notably reproductive health, HIV/ AIDS, women’s empowerment and youth -- in national development and poverty reduction strategies.

  • UNFPA strengthens the capacity of LDCs, on a demand-driven basis, to design, execute and analyze censuses.

UNOPS is a central resource for the United Nations system in procurement and contracts management as well as in civil works and physical infrastructure development, including related capacity development activities. UNOPS maintains a flexible organization that can respond to either rapid growth or decline in its volume of business with clients. The size of its presence depends on the needs to be addressed and the implementation services required. UNOPS takes a results-oriented approach to the services it provides. It launches and implements new operations quickly, transparently and in a fully accountable manner. Examples of services that contribute to address the needs of LDCs are:

  • Designing and managing projects of all sizes, providing multiple, complementary services such as logistical planning;

  • Large-scale procurement of goods and services, including guidance to clients throughout the procurement process; with its significant buying power, UNOPS enjoys considerable leverage with suppliers and passes cost savings on to clients;

  • Physical infrastructure design, engineering, construction and rehabilitation, including roads, schools and hospitals, and the erection of durable storage facilities in remote locations at short notice. UNOPS emphasizes the use of labour-intensive projects to help local people back into work, as securing livelihoods goes a long way towards empowering families, promoting stability and boosting economic recovery. We also work closely with national governments to fill capacity gaps and develop existing capacities, often embedding staff in key ministries. In order to reduce damage caused by natural disasters, UNOPS also works with a number of countries to develop their capacity for prediction, preparedness and mitigation as well as infrastructure damage assessments in the aftermath of disasters.

  • Implementation of climate change adaptation activities, protection of international waters and vulnerable areas, address the environmental consequences of natural disasters and support small grants aimed at non-governmental and community-based organizations;

  • Supporting security sector reform and constructing security infrastructure, such as police stations, prisons, courthouses and border crossings; UNOPS also procure goods such as vehicles and equipment, and supports humanitarian mine action and the removal of unexploded ordnance.

1 In its latest triennial review of the list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in 2009, the Committee for Development Policy used the following three criteria for the identification of the LDCs: 1) A low-income criterion, based on a three-year average estimate of the gross national income (GNI) per capita (under $905 for inclusion, above $ 1,086for graduation); 2) A human capital status criterion, involving a composite Human Assets Index (HAI) based on indicators of: (a) nutrition: percentage of population undernourished; (b) health: mortality rate for children aged five years or under; (c) education: the gross secondary school enrolment ratio; and (d) adult literacy rate; and 3) an economic vulnerability criterion, involving a composite Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) based on indicators of: (a) population size; (b) remoteness; (c) merchandise export concentration; (d) share of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in gross domestic product; (e) homelessness owing to natural disasters; (f) instability of agricultural production; and (g) instability of exports of goods and services. In addition, since the fundamental meaning of the LDC category, i.e. the recognition of structural handicaps, excludes large economies, the population must not exceed 75 million..

2 Refer to Annex 1 for list of the 48 countries.

3 United Nations (2010). Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. World Population Policies 2009, New York.

4 United Nations Population Fund (2011). Population Dynamics in the LDCs: Challenges and Opportunities for Development and Poverty Reduction.

5 Paul Collier, Catching Up – What LDCs can do and how others can help, Commonwealth Secretariat, 2011

6 Equatorial Guinea, Timor-Leste, Lao PDR, Solomon Islands, Cambodia, and Sao-Tome and Principe

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