Launch of UNDP/UNESCAP Report on Least Development Countries

24 Aug 2005

Voices of the Least Developed Countries in Asia and the Pacific: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals  Through a Global Partnership

Asia-Pacific's Poorest Countries Need Global Support Too

Kathmandu, August 24 - In a region of rising prosperity, fast growth in countries like China, India and the East Asian 'tigers' hides widespread extreme poverty in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of Asia and the Pacific, a new report being launched today by two United Nations organisations warns.

The 14 Asia-Pacific LDCs, as they are known, have a per-capita income only one-fourth of that in the region overall, and almost half their population lives below national poverty lines. Included in this group are some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Afghanistan and Timor-Leste.

Due to the tyranny of averages, the relatively poor performance of the Asia-Pacific LDCs gets overshadowed, the report states.

At the same time, it says, development aid and debt relief to the Asia-Pacific LDCs have been disproportionately low and must be increased if these impoverished countries are to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which represent the global framework for fighting poverty.

With a combined population of 260 million – nearly two-fifths of the population worldwide in LDCs – the Asia-Pacific LDCs receive less than half of the average per-capita aid given to LDCs in other regions, the report says. Overall, aid per capita is US$19 for poor Asia-Pacific nations, compared to US$43 in other regions.

The report lauds the US$40-billion debt cancellation initiative announced in June by G8 finance ministers. It notes, however, that the package does not include any Asia-Pacific countries.

The international community ought not to obligate any country to spend money on debt servicing when that country does not have enough money to educate all its children at the primary level or reduce the number of children dying needlessly of treatable and preventable diseases,Â??? the report says.

Investment in development in Asia-Pacific LDCs will offer significant regional and sub-regional benefits. The report singles out illegal cross-border migration, trafficking of people and drugs, trans-boundary spread of diseases, spillover of conflicts and environmental hazards as issues beyond national borders and requiring more assistance. It also makes a strong case for cooperation among countries of Asia and the Pacific.

Recommendations for a 'win-win' situation include expanding the programme of debt relief to more severely indebted countries; nearly tripling official development assistance over 2002 levels, from less than US$4 billion to more than $12 billion by 2006; facilitating trade and market access, especially by introducing preferential schemes; removing quotas or tariffs on exports; supporting investment in infrastructure; and facilitating entry into the World Trade Organisation.

Simultaneously, the report proposes a number of steps for improved governance in the region's LDCs, including greater accountability and transparency, along with better aid coordination, to boost conditions for scaled-up and more effective use of aid.

The loss of market share of some Asia-Pacific LDCs, including Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal, because of the withdrawal of textile quotas earlier this year is likely to represent a particularly large 'negative shock,' resulting in major declines in production and employment and a subsequent rise in poverty, the report cautions. In particular, female garment workers in these countries are likely to be worst-hit.

Many LDCs face additional vulnerabilities from their small population bases and market size, disadvantaged location, exposure to natural hazards, high levels of conflict and low income and savings rates, according to the report.

Asia-Pacific LDCs have shown modest growth and a degree of poverty alleviation, and a handful of countries, such as Bangladesh, have made impressive strides in social development. However, most of these countries are behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, especially those related to poverty reduction, elimination of extreme hunger, improvement in health and environmental sustainability. Greater international support will be required for the region's poorest countries to achieve the goals, the report says.

The Millennium Declaration, adopted by all 191 UN members since 2000, encompasses eight global goals intended to reduce by half the number of the world's extreme poor by 2015. Strengthening of the eighth Goal, which the report particularly urges, involves advancing a global partnership for development. An estimated US$20.7 billion will be required in 2006 to meet the MDGs in these countries, rising to $47.3 billion by 2015, with the LDCs themselves expected to generate nearly half this amount.

The 14 Asia-Pacific LDCs, including four landlocked countries and seven island developing states, are among the 50 countries identified worldwide as least developed. These include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The report was a collaborative effort by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) on behalf of the region's LDCs. It was prepared under the auspices of the UNDP Asia and Pacific Regional Centre in Colombo, which provides policy research and analysis, strategic policy advice and advocacy services to 37 countries in the region on pro-poor policies, international trade and investment, HIV/AIDS and gender equality.

The report 'aims to be a timely reminder to the international community that there are LDCs here no less in need of global support than elsewhere' if they are to achieve the MDGs, according to a statement by UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific Hafiz A. Pasha and UNESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su.

Recommendations in the report were endorsed by the United Nations' Special Body on Least Developed and Landlocked Developing Countries at its meeting in Bangkok in May 2005. The idea of showcasing the poorest countries of Asia and the Pacific before the upcoming global World Summit 2005 (Millennium+5) in September emerged last year at a regional consultation in Cambodia.