'Development Is Not an Overnight Affair': UN High Representative Calls for Immediate Action; United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States Anwarul K. Chowdhury Tells the UN Chronicle of the Need for the Immediate Cancellation of Debts for LDCs

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On the major challenges facing the least developed countries today

The least developed countries (LDCs) are the poorest, weakest segment of humanity. Their problems are, in general, the same as those faced by developing countries, but they have some special constraints--of capacity, resources and effective and efficient organization. The criteria for being an LDC are threefold: their per capita income, human development indicators, and ability to withstand external shocks. That is where the vulnerability of LDCs comes in. They are the least prepared and least equipped to face external shocks. The burden of external debt, low official development assistance (ODA), and the constraint of development of capacity in their respective countries are all the factors making their situation extraordinarily difficult. Still, I believe that LDCs have been able to put their issues high on the global agenda. In the 2000 Millennium Declaration, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 8 refers to the needs of LDCs. In 2001, a UN conference in Brussels resulted in the Declaration and the decade-long Programme of Action focusing on the needs of these countries.

On the need to strengthen the implementation of the Programme of Action for LDCs

I feel very strongly that the immediate cancellation of debts for LDCs is the most urgent matter. The debt burden on these countries is unsustainable, and efforts to cancel their debts should be addressed immediately. The second immediate area would be to see that the ODA commitment made in the Brussels Programme, to provide LDCs with 0.20 per cent of overall gross domestic product of the industialized countries, should be redeemed immediately. Another is market access, but LDCs have been able to secure fairly good access in various industrial markets. The main challenge before them is the supply constraints. I believe that debt cancellation, meeting the ODA target for LDCs and supporting these countries in terms of political commitment, infrastructure and development needs would be a very effective way to assist them.

We have 50 least developed countries, 34 in Africa. Since most of the African LDCs are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, it is necessary that special attention be given to their needs. Capacity development should continue to be of primary importance. There is also a need to concentrate on poverty reduction and social development goals like health, education and empowerment of women. Of course, experience has shown that governance needs special attention too. This is an emerging concern, and development partners should also concentrate on this area. The UN system has focused on the needs of LDCs and has developed programmes and projects to support development efforts. If you take the resource allocation of UN funds and programmes, the majority goes to LDCs. Some eighteen UN entities have adopted decisions to mainstream the implementation of the Brussels Programme in the context of their own activities. What needs to be done is to see how the specific commitments made in the Programme can best be implemented.

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On development cooperation for SIDS

Small island developing States (SIDS) have a genuine case in the context of their vulnerable economies and environment. There is goodwill for these countries and strong support for their agenda and for the Barbados Programme of Action. However, it is necessary in the context of the Programme's ten-year review in Mauritius in January 2005 that there should be an effort by SIDS to prioritize the areas that are important to them. They must focus on the areas they would like to take up, say, in the next two or three years, as implementation and prioritization are very essential to get things moving.

The list of forty small island States is currently being redefined. Cyprus and Malta, for instance, in the context of their entry into the European Union, have already been advised to come out of the group. …