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Concerned that global crises threaten to worsen vulnerability in poorest nations, speakers in Second Committee call for enhanced productivity, food security

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GA/EF/3227

Sixty-third General Assembly
Second Committee
24th Meeting (AM)

Expressing concern that the global food and energy crises were exacerbating the vulnerability of economically fragile least developed countries, several speakers in the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) today called for strategies to increase the agricultural productivity and food security of those nations.

As the Committee concluded its general debate on groups of countries in special situations, Yemen's representative said 5 million people in his country were going hungry, while another 923 million people around the globe were malnourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The recent increase in wheat prices was threatening Yemen's ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, despite its best efforts to do so. And while the country had a medium-term plan for food security, it and other least developed countries still needed international support, including seeds, to feed its people properly.

Sudan's representative agreed, warning that the recent rise in food prices could push another 100 million people deeper into poverty, 10 per cent of them children under age five. Malnutrition already claimed the lives of more than 3.7 million children under that age every year. Food crop prices were expected to remain high in 2009 and well above 2004 levels through 2015. There was a need, now more than ever, to expedite and reinforce partnerships between least developed countries and their development partners. The unique concerns of the latter must be part of the global solutions to the current crises.

Nigeria's representative noted that the financial crisis had compounded matters by inducing fears over aid delivery, with donors themselves uncertain about how far delivery would go. The international community, particularly development partners, must step up official development assistance, foreign direct investment and capacity-building, in addition to broadening the research bases of least developed countries. In a similar vein, Nepal's representative said that without significantly boosting the agricultural capacity of least developed countries it would be difficult for them to address poverty, hunger, malnutrition and unemployment.

The representative of Mauritius, speaking on behalf of the African Group, pointed to the particularly difficult situation of poor African nations, which accounted for 68 per cent of all least developed countries. More than 75 per cent of their people lived in rural areas and depended on agriculture for their livelihood. Small farmers were left to make do with rudimentary, obsolete equipment, resulting in low crop yields. While least developed countries in Africa had made efforts to mainstream the Brussels Programme of Action, as well as regional programmes and initiatives, the impact of climate change and global warming continued to aggravate their situation as they faced desertification, land degradation, threats to key biological resources and rapid urbanization.

Other delegates speaking today were representatives of Kazakhstan, India, Mozambique, Paraguay, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger, Ethiopia and the Maldives.

Also making a statement was a representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Prior to its consideration of the day's business, the Committee heard several draft resolutions introduced.

The Second Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 5 November, to consider macroeconomic policy questions: international trade and development, revitalization of the work of the General Assembly and programme planning.

Background

Meeting to conclude its general discussion on groups of countries in special situations (see Press Release GA/EF/3226 of 3 November for background information), the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) was also expected to hear the introduction of draft resolutions on information and communications technology for development (document A/C.2/63/L.10).

Committee members were also expected to hear the presentation of several sustainable development texts, including draft resolutions on: follow-up to and implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (document A/C.2/63/L.12); the sustainable development of the Caribbean Sea for present and future generations (document A/C.2/63/L.13); international cooperation to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon (document A/C.2/63/L.14); the protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind (document A/C.2/63/L.15); the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa (document A/C.2/63/L.16); the Convention on Biological Diversity (document A/C.2/63/L.17); and the report of the governing council of the United Nations Environment Programme on its tenth special session (document A/C.2/63/L.18).

The Committee was also expected see two draft resolutions relating to poverty eradication tabled: the role of microcredit and microfinance in the eradication of poverty (document A/C.2/63/L.11); and implementation of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017) (document A/C.2/63/L.25).

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

JANIL GREENAWAY (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" and China, introduced the drafts resolutions on information and communications technology for development (document A/C.2/63/L.10); follow-up to and implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (document A/C.2/63/L.12); the sustainable development of the Caribbean Sea for present and future generations (document A/C.2/63/L.13); international cooperation to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon (document A/C.2/63/L.14); the protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind (document A/C.2/63/L.15); the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa (document A/C.2/63/L.16); the Convention on Biological Diversity (document A/C.2/63/L.17); the report of the governing council of the United Nations Environment Programme on its tenth special session (document A/C.2/63/L.18); the role of microcredit and microfinance in the eradication of poverty (document A/C.2/63/L.11); and implementation of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017) (document A/C.2/63/L.25).

The Committee then resumed its general discussion of groups of countries in special situations.

Statements

BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said all countries -- and particularly the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States -- had been impacted by galloping prices, decreasing export earnings, and cuts in foreign direct investments and official development assistance, against a backdrop of dwindling food supplies to the world markets, modest growth in wages and rising unemployment. As a continental country, Kazakhstan believed in the necessity of adopting urgent strategic measures to revive the global financial system. Unfortunately, the Bretton Woods institutions had failed to respond to the threat of financial crisis last year, and to prevent a repetition of Asia's economic turmoil in the 1990s. The international community must prepare thoroughly for the International Follow-up Conference on Financing for Development in Doha at the end of the month.

She said that over the past few months, her country had been closely observing the expert discussions on the draft outcome document for the Doha Review Conference. It was a unique document because it offered innovative approaches to finding additional sources of financing for development, in particular by involving the "new donors" from the business sector and philanthropy, and through wider participation by civil society in securing access for vulnerable groups to basic services and loan mechanisms to promote entrepreneurship. In accordance with its new priorities of socially oriented sustainable development, Kazakhstan was very interested in learning from the best international practices about strengthening cooperation between the public and socially responsible private sectors. Kazakhstan proposed a shift from the declarative tone of many paragraphs in the draft outcome document to a practical set of measures ready for implementation.

MATHIAS JONGKOR ( Sudan) said that despite the progress in implementing the Brussels Programme of Action, the social and economic situation of least developed countries remained precarious. They faced the negative impact of the financial crisis, the food and energy crises, climate change and the resulting global economic slowdown. The World Bank estimated that the recent rise in food prices could push another 100 million people deeper into poverty, 10 per cent of them children under age five. Malnutrition was already causing the deaths of more than 3.7 million children under that age annually. Food crop prices were expected to remain high in 2009 and well above 2004 levels through 2015. There was a need, now more than ever, to expedite and reinforce partnerships between least developed countries and their development partners, and the unique concerns of the latter must be part of global solutions to the current crises.

He said his country had made steady progress in implementing the Brussels Programme in the past seven years, but challenges remained. Child and maternal mortality rates remained high compared to those of other countries, according to the Social Household Survey, completed in October 2007. Such challenges would be exacerbated by a lack of strong management capacity, and inadequate financing and human resources. The country's external debt now stood at more than $31 billion. Nevertheless, Sudan was committing to the Brussels Programme, which it had mainstreamed into its 2007-2011 Five Year National Strategic Plan. Revitalizing the agricultural sector was a priority if the country was to achieve food security and eradicate poverty. Sudan needed support for capacity building to diversify its economic base, and called on international donors to make good on their pledges to help sustain peace in the country by assisting reconstruction and development efforts.

E. M. SUDARSANA NATCHIAPPAN (India), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that while the 6 per cent average annual growth rate enjoyed by least developed countries over the last decade demonstrated their success in implementing the Brussels Programme of Action, that growth had not led to poverty reduction. Indeed, in many cases it had only increased social disparities and clearly shown that sustained economic growth did not result in the automatic achievement of development objectives. For that, greater international support was required, particularly from developed countries. That support should focus on greater financial and technical assistance for national development strategies and on effectively addressing the structural constraints and impediments to the economic and social development of the least developed countries.

Unfortunately, foreign direct investment remained concentrated in a few natural-resource-rich countries, he said, adding that such flows did not encourage linkages with the economy at large, offered few employment-generation effects and did not enhance production capacity. While official development assistance remained a significant financing source, it was far below the promised 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of gross national income. Exports were not diversified and the debt repayment burden was high. Thus, there was a need for a paradigm shift to address those problems, which would require an integrated approach encompassing additional financing, enhanced market access, long-term sustainability of debt burdens, technology transfer at affordable rates and the building of institutions and capacity. In that, the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries would be an important step.

Highlighting India's efforts to help least developed countries, he underlined its announcement of a scheme to grant duty-free and preferential access to their products, adding that its programme of technical and economic cooperation also had a special focus on least developed countries. Still, the efforts of fellow developing countries could only complement the requisite efforts by developed partners. Some of those countries faced continuing challenges even as they graduated from the list of least developed countries, and the international community should continue to extend assistance in the post-graduation phase. India supported a re-examination of the graduation criteria. While the Almaty Programme of Action highlighted the special needs of landlocked developing countries, solutions should also address the transit constraints of their neighbours.

MARIA GUSTAVA (Mozambique), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said least developed countries had been making tremendous efforts to implement the reforms envisaged in the Brussels Programme, but the economic gains made since its adoption had not been translated into substantial changes on poverty reduction, and had deepened social disparities, especially between rural and urban areas. In addition, the global challenges facing the world economy today would exacerbate food insecurity in the least developed countries -- where millions of people were already struggling for survival -- destabilize political situations and trigger social unrest. Measures to address the crises should therefore consider the special needs of the least developed countries.

If efforts to reduce poverty were to be effective in real terms, equity measures to reduce the gap between rich and poor should accompany efforts for economic growth, she continued. Hence, pro-poor policies should be applied deliberately in order to spread incomes and services to those at the bottom of the social ladder. Furthermore, donor countries should honour their commitments on official development assistance and support a successful conclusion to the Doha Round, with a view to ensuring greater benefits for least developed countries from world trade. For its part, Mozambique had taken major steps in fighting poverty and promoting sustainable equitable development. It had designed people-centred policies, strategies and programmes geared towards providing better social services, with the emphasis on human development, an expansion of infrastructure and the creation of a favourable business environment.

TAHA AL-AWADHI ( Yemen) said that, like other developing countries, his own was grappling with the current global financial and food crises. Yemen was suffering from a real crisis in which 5 million people were affected by hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Families could not send their children to school because they could not afford school fees. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), increases in wheat price in 2008 had threatened the country's ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Yemen had a medium-term plan for food security.

Stressing the importance of international cooperation in addressing food security concerns, and appealing for increased assistance, including seeds, for developing countries, he said developed countries should also help in other aspects of agriculture. Yemen had adopted a 2006-2011 national plan to reduce poverty, guarantee social services and strengthen governance. However, the country would not be able to achieve the Millennium Goals by 2015 due to the challenges it faced, particularly the food and climate change crises. Reduced official development assistance, debt and the lack of technology transfer had compounded those problems.

He appealed for the fulfilment of commitments by developed countries to allocate 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to official development assistance and 0.2 per cent specifically to least developed countries. Yemen, having held an initiative to alleviate external debt, invited development partners to cancel the debt owed by developing countries. As for climate change, the country had been exposed two weeks ago to flooding that had caused the deaths of thousands in addition to the mass destruction of homes, roads and water networks.

MADHUBAN PRASAD PAUDEL ( Nepal) said the Secretary-General's reports provided a mixed picture of the progress being made in implementation, as well as the constraints encountered. The implementation process was particularly constrained by the emerging new challenges and the lack of increased resources. Despite strategic policy and governance reform measures, as well as encouraging economic performance, most of the least developed countries had yet to attain poverty reducing growth, attract investment, and improve social indicators, particularly those relating to the Millennium Development Goals. Their overall development process had been hindered by low productive capacity, specifically in the agricultural sector, without a significant boost to which it would be difficult to address poverty, hunger, malnutrition and unemployment in least developed countries.

Least developed and landlocked developing countries suffered from weak infrastructure and a lack of human resources development, he continued. They had no capacity to cope efficiently with the emerging challenges which had further aggravated their situation. They needed increased and more focused international support to address existing and new challenges. Unless a substantial and predictable flow of development resources reached the least developed countries, their development efforts would continue to suffer. Effective improvements were also needed in the swift delivery of trade and debt relief promises. International funding resources and productive capacity-building assistance should be scaled up adequately to match promises already made.

SOMDUTH SOBORUN ( Mauritius), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said Arica constituted 68 per cent of all least developed countries. The Brussels Programme underscored accelerated, sustained and inclusive growth as central to poverty reduction, sustainable development and the integration of least developed countries into the global economy. Since the Programme was based on the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities, African least developed countries had adopted several policies and measures to mainstream its implementation into national development strategies, and had made tangible achievements in implementing it.

The economic growth and macroeconomic performance of African least developed countries had improved as their participation in the global economy had grown through subregional, regional and international trade in the context of South-South cooperation and through trade initiatives by trading partners. Since 2001, African least developed countries had focused increasingly on improving on environmental agreements to which they had signed up. For example, they had been instrumental in creating programmes to implement the Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, the environmental initiative of the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the Sirte Declaration on Integrated Development of Water and Agriculture in Africa, and the Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT) Agenda.

They had also successfully mobilized domestic resources through improved fiscal policy, financial sector reforms, budgetary and public financial management control mechanisms, and strengthening and widening the tax base, he said. Some of the least developed countries had qualified for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt initiative, while others had reached the completion and decision point. However, daunting challenges remained. More than 75 per cent of the population of African least developed countries lived in rural areas and depended on agriculture for their livelihood. However, small farmers still depended on rudimentary, obsolete equipment to cultivate land, with low yields as the end result. Climate change and global warming further aggravated the situation of least developed countries, with African ones in particular facing threats to key biological resources, in addition to desertification, land degradation and rapid urbanization.

JUAN BUFFA (Paraguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said there was no longer any doubt of the predicament of that group of countries, which faced economic vulnerability in a world enduring successive crises. Measures by the international community to alleviate the crises must take into account and give special consideration to landlocked developing countries. There was a need to create favourable conditions for the mobilization of effective resources that would make it possible to tackle the development problems of landlocked developing countries.

Urging the international community, especially the financial and development institutions, to scale up their support, he said there was a need for efficient transport and transit because the high cost of transportation and border delays were costly and discouraged foreign direct investment. Paraguay called for more resolute cooperation on the part of the international financial institutions and greater official development assistance contributions on the part of donors. Transit countries should also earmark resources for the development and maintenance of infrastructure.

He also expressed hope that, with the resumption of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, landlocked developing countries might be endowed with an international instrument that would contain binding norms and facilitate the transit of goods in a more fluid and less costly fashion. Paraguay appealed to the members of the World Trade Organization to ensure that membership negotiations for landlocked developing countries took their predicament into account.

ASAD KHAN ( Pakistan) said the deepening financial crisis and the impending global recession posed a set of complex and daunting challenges for developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and others in special situations. They faced difficulty in implementing development commitments, particularly the Brussels and Almaty Programmes of Action. The lack of financial resources was the greatest obstacle to implementation. Gains made thus far toward achieving internationally agreed targets were in danger of reversal due to the current financial turmoil and other accompanying crises.

He said the United Nations, working closely with the Bretton Woods institutions, should carry out an urgent and comprehensive stocktaking of the situation with a view to evaluating the impact of the crises on the efforts of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and other developing countries in distress. The review should also include specific measures and efforts, including allowing countries in special situations to sustain the momentum of the growth they had achieved over the years and stepping up international support so they could scale up their development efforts. That support must be immediate, adequate, grant-based and free of conditionality. Pakistan was committed to helping least developed countries and landlocked developing countries overcome the formidable development obstacles facing them. As a transit developing country, Pakistan was an active participant in the Almaty Programme of Action and was committed to providing easy, efficient and expeditious transit access to help landlocked neighbours expand international trade.

WALI NAEEMI (Afghanistan), associating himself with the Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of 77 and China, said that in order to fulfil the commitments of the Brussels Programme, the international community must support the least developed countries by providing the resources they needed. In overcoming the current food, financial and climate crises, comprehensive and decisive policy action was critically important at all levels, with special attention to vulnerable countries, including least developed and landlocked developing countries.

The importance of the agricultural sector in the least developed economies could not be overstated, he said, noting that it was unfortunate that sector continued to decline. To enhance agricultural production, investment must be scaled up and modern technologies must be provided. Regarding international trade, Afghanistan welcomed the offer of duty- and quota-free market access by some developed and developing countries, and invited others to do follow suit.

Nevertheless, least developed countries, which were marginalized in North-South trade, were increasingly marginalized in South-South trade as well, he said. Capacity-building was urgently needed to reverse that situation. The Aid for Trade initiative could help least developed countries address their supply-side constraints and the erosion of preferences. Afghanistan also called for simplifying the process of gaining access to the World Trade Organization for least developed countries.

BOUBACAR BOUREIMA (Niger), associating himself with the Group of 77, the African Group, the Least Developed Countries, and the Landlocked Developing Countries, said that, while the Secretary-General's reports on the implementation of the Brussels and Almaty Programmes stated that some progress had been made, they also mentioned the many remaining challenges. The reports also said that those groups of countries were still very vulnerable to shocks, which meant the global food and energy crises could only compound the complicated situations of those countries, which were already subject to the effects of climate change. Even more serious was the global financial crisis, which had raised fears that developed countries might have the reflex of turning inwards, thereby further reducing their development assistance.

For that reason, it was important that the international community show more understanding and solidarity in order to ensure the effective implementation of the Brussels and Almaty Programmes, he said. In any event, the outcome documents from the high-level meeting that in 2006 considered the Brussels Programme of Action, and the recent high-level meeting on the midterm review of the Almaty Programme, pointed the way forward. Furthermore, the Fourth Review Conference on the Implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action should -- in the case of landlocked developing countries -- include an in-depth consideration of the programme, in order to identify obstacles, challenges and emerging questions, as well as steps to speed up implementation of existing commitments. Niger hoped the Doha Review Conference would take decisions of crucial importance for all categories of countries in special situations.

HIRUT ZEMENE ( Ethiopia) said progress and rapid gross domestic product growth in many least developed countries over the past few years should be safeguarded from current adverse trends in the international economic environment, including the food and financial crises and the impact of climate change. Ethiopia supported the Secretary-General's initiative to form a High-level Task Force on Food Security.

Support from development partners would strongly complement the efforts of least developed countries, she said. In that spirit, Ethiopia had created a five-year national strategy for accelerated and sustained development to end poverty. It was based on the principles of the Brussels Programme and the Millennium Development Goals. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation, as the national focal point for the Brussels Programme, had submitted reports, including the June 2006 National Status Report and the June 2007 voluntary national report, to the Economic and Social Council. Ethiopia had also completed its national Millennium Development Goals synthesis assessment report in 2005.

The review report on the national development strategy for 2006 and 2007 clearly indicated the steady progress made in reducing poverty and efforts to deepen and expand growth, she said. According to that review, poverty had dropped from 45.5 per cent in 1996 to 34.6 per cent in 2006 and 2007. Ethiopia was on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 2 on universal education. The development of primary health care based on prevention was improving access for mothers and children. The Government had devised a way to enable the country to register rapid expansion and growth in key infrastructure sectors.

KHADHEEJA ZAHIR (Maldives), associating herself with the Least Developing Countries and the Group of 77, said many least developed countries had achieved record levels of economic expansion over the last few years, propelled by high commodity prices, debt relief and increased foreign assistance. However, many challenges remained to be addressed, and that progress might not be sustainable. Least developed countries were characterized by low levels of domestic-resource mobilization and investment, weak development of manufacturing industries, high levels of commodity dependence, rising costs of food and oil imports, and growing trade deficits. Thus, they were among the most vulnerable to a global economic slowdown.

Least developed countries as a group were unlikely to meet the goal of eradicating poverty by the 2015 target date, she said. Moreover, the current food, fuel and financial crises were likely to slow down or even reverse the limited prog