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THE pandemic is pushing back the world’s poorest countries with the least means to finance economic recovery and contagion containment efforts.
Without international solidarity, economic gaps will grow again as Covid-19 threatens humanity for years to come.
While bringing some concessions, the “least developed countries” (LDCs) designation – introduced five decades ago – has not generated changes needed to accelerate sustainable development for all.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly created the LDCs category for its Second Development Decade (1971-80). Its resolution sought support for its 25 poorest member states, with Sikkim out after India’s 1975 annexation.
With many others joining, the LDCs list rose to 49 in 2001. Half a century later, with only seven having “graduated” – after meeting income, “human assets” and economic & environmental vulnerability criteria – the 44 remaining LDCs have 14% of the world’s people.
With more than two-thirds in Sub-Saharan Africa, LDCs have over half the world’s extreme poor, surviving on under US$1.9 daily. LDCs are 27% more vulnerable than other developing countries, where 12% are extreme poor.
LDC criteria differ from World Bank low-income country benchmarks for concessional loan eligibility. Some LDCs – especially the resource-rich – are middle-income countries (MICs) disqualified from graduation by other criteria.
Most LDCs have become greatly aid reliant. Despite grandiloquent pronouncements, only six of 29 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “development partners” have kept promises to give at least 0.15% of their national incomes as aid to LDCs.
The UN has organised conferences every decade since to review progress and action programmes for LDC governments and development partners. The first – in Paris – was in 1981, while the fifth will be in Doha in January 2022.
The 2011 Istanbul conference ambitiously sought to graduate at least half the LDCs by 2020. But only three – Samoa (2014), Equatorial Guinea (2017) and Vanuatu (2020) – have done so.
Worse, most ex-LDCs have had difficulties sustaining development after graduating.
During the 1980s and 1990s, many developing countries implemented macroeconomic stabilisation and structural adjustment policies from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
These imposed liberalisation, privatisation and austerity across the board, including many LDCs. Unsurprisingly, “lost decades” followed for most of Africa and Latin America.
Botswana, the first graduate in 1994, is now an upper middle income country (MIC). Its diamond boom enabled 13.5% average annual growth during 1968-90.
Unsurprisingly, Botswana’s “good governance”, institutions and “prudent” macroeconomic policies were hailed as parts of this “African success story”.