Ahead of a major United Nations conference on the world’s most vulnerable countries, Secretary-General António Guterres on Saturday urged the international community – particularly wealthy nations – to step up and help the more than 1.1 billion people in these countries break out of “vicious cycles” and lift themselves out of poverty.
“Countries with the least need support the most. And you need it now. You represent one in eight people on earth. But your countries are trapped in vicious cycles that make development difficult, if not impossible,” Mr. Guterres told the Summit of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), in Doha, Qatar
Today’s Summit of Heads of State and Government from some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries is taking place just ahead of the opening of the Fifth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries, known as LDC5, which will run in the Qatari capital from 5 to 9 March.
The LDC Summit is normally held every 10 years but has twice been postponed since 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the next five days in In Doha, government leaders and other stakeholders are set to assess the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action, adopted at a precursor UN conference held in Türkiye in 2011, and mobilize additional international support and action for the world’s 46 least developed countries.
Massive investment to combat ‘perfect storm’
In his welcoming remarks to the LDC Summit, the UN chief stressed that the cost of living was becoming increasingly difficult due to the war in Ukraine, resulting in higher energy and food prices. This, combined with the effects of conflict, drought, hunger and extreme poverty, creates an environment that fuels poverty and injustice.
“For your countries, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — starting with the eradication of extreme poverty and ending hunger — is about more than lines on a chart leading to 2030,” the Secretary-General said. “It’s a matter of life and death and it is unacceptable if you are held back by processes and decisions that are made far beyond your borders.”
Indeed, fossil fuel giants are raking in huge profits, while millions in your countries cannot put food on the table. “You risk being left behind in the digital revolution without the support or technology you need for social and economic development or job-creation,” he said, calling for an end to the conditions that have left vulnerable countries facing a “perfect storm.”
“Ending this (perfect) storm for perpetuating poverty and injustice...requires massive, sustained investment,” he explained, and stressed that the global financial system had been designed by wealthy countries, “largely to their benefit”.
In the absence of effective debt relief, LDCs are forced to devote an increasing share of government revenues to debt servicing. And countries that graduate to middle-income status will lose LDC-specific benefits, which “will become a punishment, not a reward,” Mr. Guterres warned.
‘A moment of justice’
Mr. Guterres went on to say: “We cannot allow countries to fall back down the development ladder after working so hard to climb it. Amid these injustices, the United Nations is working with you to develop smooth transition strategies, based on tailored support for the graduation process."
[A country can graduate from the LDC category by meeting two of three criteria (income, human assets and economic and environmental vulnerability), or by having a per capita income of more than twice the income graduation threshold, at two consecutive triennial meetings of the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP). Find out more here.]
To achieve this, the Doha Programme of Action (DPoA) – the landmark roadmap adopted in March 2022 aimed at, among others, creating new commitments and broad partnerships towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the LDCs – includes an online university, a food stockholding system, and an international investment support centre.
In addition, the so-called SDG Stimulus package, launched in February, also proposes to increase financing for sustainable development, address the high cost of debt, and scale up emergency financing.
There is also a need for new, sensible ways of measuring countries’ economies, such as developing lending criteria that go beyond gross domestic product, the Secretary-General added.
Looking ahead to the upcoming conference, the UN chief said it must be a “moment of justice” for the LDCs and stressed: “Let us work together to provide new avenues of support for your people. Let us make the LDC category history.”
LDC5 must be about ‘real work, not just talk’
The LDC Summit was opened by Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of Malawi, and Chair of the LDC Group.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$639 in 2021, according to the World Bank. Like many other LDCs, poverty and malnutrition are widespread in this sub-Saharan African country, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line. Malawi is also facing the effects of climate change, with increased flooding and drought causing further damage to crop and livelihoods.
In his address, President Chakwera stressed that the unique global challenges and multilateral obstacles facing the LDCs cannot be “surmounted by any of us on our own”, and that “most nations abandon multilateralism and turn inward, turn their back on the brotherhood of all mankind, but we must resist that temptation.”
“We are not gathered here to just talk,” said the President, “we have real work to do and deliverables to produce. Together we will deliver an online university; an investment promotion regime; a food stock holding mechanism; a crisis mitigation and resilience building mechanism; a graduation support package that ensures a smooth transition from the LDC category.”
President Chakwera encouraged all development partners “to do their part in lifting the obstacles that stand in our way”.
LDCs at the centre of the 2030 Agenda
In closing remarks, Rabab Fatima, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and head of the relevant UN Office, known as UN-OHRLLS, said that the office would make every effort to tailor its work according to the needs and priorities expressed at the Leaders’ Summit.
She echoed the leaders’ sentiments that the least developed countries should now be at the forefront of the international community’s endeavors to make up lost ground on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Indeed, she continued, “the battle of winning or losing the SDG race will be decided in the LDCs and other vulnerable countries. If we are unable to fully prioritize the needs of the LDCs in this Decade of Action and Recovery, the SDGs will remain only an ambition.”
The Doha Programme of Action, she said, “is our best chance of turning ambition into reality.” Not only is that action plan fully aligned with the 2030 Agenda, but it also goes farther in its scope and ambition. “With a new generation of targets, commitments and deliverables, this is, in fact, an ‘SDG+ package’ for the LDCs,” stated Ms. Fatima, who is the Secretary-General of the LDC5 Conference.
If the international community could ensure the full implementation of the DPoA, the LDCs would move to the upper echelons of the global development trajectory and many of them would be able to graduate with momentum, she said, reiterating the readiness of her Office to walk – and work – alongside the LDCs on this journey.
The work ahead
During the Summit, more than a dozen LDC leaders exchanged views on how to collectively address shared challenges and find meaningful solutions. They also provided clear guidance on how to ensure effective and timely implementation of the goals, commitments and outcomes set out in the Doha Programme of Action for LDCs for the Decade 2022-2031 and the Doha Political Declaration.
Over the next few days, world leaders will gather with the private sector, civil society, parliamentarians, and young people to promote latest ideas, generate new pledges of support, and spur the implementation of agreed commitments under the Doha action plan.
The conference is expected to announce specific initiatives and concrete outcomes that address LDC-specific challenges and support the implementation of the DPoA.
High-level political engagement will be critical for the LDC5 Conference to build momentum and forge renewed and reinvigorated multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve the ambitious and shared goals, targets and commitments of the DPoA.
Three dedicated forums for the private sector, youth and parliamentarians took place on Saturday in the margins of the Summit.
In the afternoon, dozens of youth delegates, representing some 226 million young people from 46 LDCs, participated in the first Youth Forum to ever be held at an LDC conference. The Forum provided a unique opportunity for young people to share their solutions, actions, and impact.
Hamza Abdiwahab, a youth delegate from Somalia, told UN News that political instability is a common problem of LDCs in his region, which affects many issues related to quality of education and poverty.
Indeed, according to the UN, 24 out of 46 LDCs had active conflicts as of 2019. Three out of four LDCs are in conflict and post-conflict situations.
“I believe that we as young people should be involved in decision making so that we can at least have a stable political stability so that we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the next seven, in the next seven years," said Hamza.
Armel Azihar Slyvania, a youth delegate from Comoros, echoed Hamzah’s sentiments when she spoke to UN News.
“If our governments are willing to listen to young people and take our solutions that we are bringing to [situations on] the ground, it will really help solve all the problems we face in [our countries],’ said Armel.
The young LDC participants discussed a host of development issues that affect them and their countries – including education and skills development, health, employment, climate change, peace and security, human rights, and migration.
The Youth Forum adopted a Youth Declaration entitled ‘For All Generations’, which expresses the commitment of young people to contribute to a better future in the world’s least developed countries and beyond.
The Youth Declaration is the result of a series of consultations with young people from the world’s 46 LDCs. It has been used as an advocacy document to influence the DPoA negotiations and will be presented to world leaders at the LDC5 conference next week.
Civil society and the UN must work together for LDCs
In his remarks to the Civil Society Forum also being held on the margins of the LDC Leaders’ Summit, Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, stated that strengthening the bonds between civil society organizations and the United Nations is imperative.
“Governments do not have a monopoly on wisdom” and “we need your wisdom. We need your knowledge. We need your experience,” he said, and stressed: “Let us commit ourselves to working hand in hand, to supporting the transformation of LDCs, and to achieving sustainable development.”
Mr. Kőrösi went on to cite a raft of challenges facing these countries, saying they are “at a crossroads on their paths toward sustainable development,” as sadly, the pandemic had reversed years of economic growth that had played an important role in improving access to health and services and reducing poverty overall, with some LDCs now experiencing the first economic contractions in three decades.
“Worse, between 2011 and 2019, the combined debt of LDCs tripled from $10 billion to $33 billion per year. A debt projected to rise by another $50 billion due to the unaccounted effects of the pandemic,” he said, explaining that “on a human scale, that means 32 million more people pushed into poverty across the world’s LDCs, with women and children bearing the heaviest brunt of misery.”
With this in mind, the Assembly President said: “But we have to make a choice to invest in our sustainable development goals. A conscious choice. The smart choice. The ethical choice. This is not philanthropy. This is about doing the right thing.”
“To achieve this, we must work together. Across borders. Across sectors,” he continued, pointing to the DPoA, which he said, provides a comprehensive framework designed to address the challenges faced by LDCs and support those nations in achieving sustainable development. “That is a blueprint for turning our potential into prosperity. A game plan for harnessing the wealth that we do have.”