By Patrick Boyle
Intern, Disaster Accountability Project
We cannot keep witnessing the number of LDCs grow… We must do better…
- Arjun Karki, in his opening statement to the U.N.
Earlier this year in Istanbul, the U.N. held an international summit to address the issues of the world’s “Least Developed Countries” (LDC’s). Held once every ten years beginning in 1981, this year’s gathering marked the fourth incarnation of the summit and was dubbed the “LDC IV.” In her August 10, 2011 Podcast, AidWorks host Catherine Coorey and guest Albion Harrison-Naish discussed the LDC-IV summit, past and present.
While there has been an enormous amount of good will and aid money focused towards LDCs in the 40 years since the summit’s inception, Harrison-Naish’s numbers show discouraging trends. While international aid has undoubtedly saved countless lives during crisis, long-term programs aimed at building sustainable economies do not seem to have worked. Since 1981, only 3 countries have been able to “graduate” from their LDC status, while 21 have been *added* to the list in the last decade alone.
The recent increase in the number of LDCs is especially worrisome considering that during that same decade international aid funding jumped from 14 billion dollars to 43 billion dollars annually. Currently, there are 48 countries listed as “Least Developed,” the vast majority coming from Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. According to the LDC-IV final report, or “Istanbul Programme of Action,” the 48 LDCs are home to 880 million people, 75% of which live in poverty. The “Istanbul Programme of Action” is the final product of the summit and the proposed “blueprint” for the next 10 years.
Arjun Karki, the chair and spokesperson for the Civil Society Forum at the LDC-IV conference, highlighted the elevated vulnerability of people living in LDCs. Large swaths of the world’s poor are perpetually forced to “bear the brunt of new crises of food, water, climate change and global finance, even though they have not caused these crises.” Since June of 2010, a global spike in food prices has increased the number of people in LDCs living in poverty by 44 million.
The U.N.’s stated goal for the LDC-IV conference was to bring government leaders, academics, and representatives from the private and civil sectors together to analyze the success of the last LDC conference (Held in Brussels in 2001), and to collaborate on the creation of a road map for the next 10 years.
Though representatives from Governments, private industry and civil society had many disagreements, the lack of transparency in the spending and distribution of money was cited by all as a major obstacle. Harrison-Naish quotes a figure from the oversight organization Transparency International, rating most countries identified as LDCs in their top 2% for most corruption. (For more information on transparency efforts in aid, visit Transparency International)
Another major goal stated in the “Istanbul Plan of Action” was to halve the number of LDCs in the world by 2021, the year of the next summit. An admirable goal indeed, but the plan has been criticized by many, including those from the Civil Society Forum, for failing to realize any sort of actionable plan to help meet those ambitions. In response to the “Plan of Action,” Arjun Karki said, “It is difficult to find real commitments and quantifiable targets that would help the lives of people in LDCs…” He continued, “…[the] Program lacks specific commitments to action, as well as any mechanisms to hold governments to account. It is devoid of political will.”
After 40 years of unsuccessful policy with no improvement in sight, Coorey, no longer surprised by disappointment, summarized the LDC-IV conference as the “same old crap.”