Rethinking Approach to Managing Vulnerabilities of Least Developed Countries Focus of Thematic Debate, at Istanbul Conference


ISTANBUL, 11 May — An expert panel at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries this afternoon considered the unique vulnerabilities of those countries and weighed strategies to help them rise above a raft of complex challenges, including geographical isolation, skyrocketing food prices, global warming, and lack of access to clean water.

“We need to help the least developed countries significantly and rapidly improve their physical, human and institutional infrastructure, improve agricultural productivity and expand export capacities,” said Louis Kasekende, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Uganda, setting out a recipe for bolstering the resilience of those countries to shocks, in a keynote address during the high-level thematic debate, entitled, “Reducing Vulnerabilities, Responding to Emerging Challenges, and Enhancing Food Security in the LDCs”.

Continuing, Mr. Kasekende, who is also a member of the Group of Eminent Persons on the Least Developed Countries, called for a new development partnership that went beyond the established compact between those nations and traditional donors to include, for example, non-traditional donors, grassroots groups and private sector actors. Their efforts had been proven in areas such as upgrading infrastructure and providing new export markets for goods from those countries.

Also delivering a keynote address, Mehdi Erkel, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Turkey, said food security was the essence and starting point of development. Agriculture was the backbone of the economies of many least developed countries, since major portions of their populations worked in that sector and a large percentage of household expenditures was devoted to purchasing food. Most of the least developed countries were net food importers and, given their intrinsic vulnerability, were vulnerable to volatility in food and commodity prices.

Touching on another issue speakers believed was vital to address vulnerabilities in least developed countries was Bacai Sanha, President of Guinea-Bissau. He said that qualitative and quantitative transformation of agriculture sectors was impossible without adopting new technologies and appropriate mechanisms to ensure increased production and productivity. He also stressed the need to provide better seeds, equipment and other agricultural inputs and to adopt strategies that strengthened farmers’ activities, especially small farmers, in areas such as water management.

Setting the stage for the interactive discussion, Ahmed Naseem, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, who chaired the event, said that while all least developed countries faced similar vulnerabilities, small islands faced permanent structural weaknesses that required unique redress. They were characterized by tiny populations, huge distances from markets of scale and particular susceptibility to climate change.

The Maldives was a unique case because it had been on track to graduate from the list of least developed countries in 2007, he said, but owing to a series of economic shocks and the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, the United Nations General Assembly had deferred its graduation, continuing to confer full benefits to it under its least developed-country status until January of this year. He said Maldives’ paradox -– being relatively prosperous but extremely vulnerable -- revealed that care should be taken to consistently monitor and provide assistance to the least developed even when indicators suggested otherwise.

Among the lead discussants, Anna Tibaijuka, Minister of Human Settlements, Housing and Urban Affairs of the United Republic of Tanzania, said the very term “least developed” meant that those countries were vulnerable. “So the real question is what can we do?” While international action to secure their sustainable development was certainly necessary, plans and strategies would only be as successful as their implementation on the ground. Therefore, the plans must be targeted and include inputs from those who would make them work at the community level.

Speaking next in her capacity as Chair of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, she was concerned that water and sanitation issues had barely been mentioned during the Conference thus far, particularly given that 2.6 billion people worldwide did not have access to a basic toilet and 800 million lacked access to clean water. Delivering on the relevant Millennium Development Goals, therefore, would go a long way towards reducing vulnerabilities. “If we are going to secure economic advancement we need healthy populations,” she said, adding that “it is futile to assume that was going to occur, especially in the least developed countries, without dealing with sanitation issues.”

Ms. Tibaijuka was joined by a diverse panel of lead discussants, including: Lila Hanitra Ratsifandrihamanana from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office with the United Nations; Luc Gnacadja, Executive Director of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; Richard Kinley, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Secretary of the World Food Programme (WFP); and Babu Mathew of the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication.

Mr. Kinley said that the least developed countries had a privileged place in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its implementation. Since its establishment, that instrument had recognized the vulnerability of those countries to climate change and had charged parties to the Convention to take that situation into account. In response, a work programme had been established under the Convention in 2001 to support those countries’ planning and implementation in areas, such as adaptation, capacity-building and awareness raising.

When the floor was opened for discussion, the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines boiled the issue down to what he believed was its essence: there was little need to endlessly discuss the ways least developed countries could strengthen productive capacities, diversify products and improve infrastructure if they could not trade fairly in the global marketplace. Leveling that playing field and extending duty- and quota-free access for all commodities of interest to those countries were critical to erasing their vulnerabilities.

A representative of the Ugandan Farmers’ Association said not enough attention was being paid to developing agriculture sectors, and that even less attention was devoted to developing farmers’ capacity. He, therefore, called for action plans that not only dealt with issues like subsidies and market access, but which also aimed at improving the lives of farmers so that in turn, they helped ease vulnerabilities caused by food insecurity.

For information media • not an official record