Anwarul K. Chowdhury is the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. He spoke about development aid and its effectiveness, governance, remittances, brain drain and other issues relating to LDCs in October 2006 with Melissa Gorelick and George Simpson of the UN Chronicle.
What are the factors that designate a country as least developed?
In 1971, when the United Nations General Assembly first decided to set up a category for countries it considered the weakest and poorest of the international community, 25 fit the LDC criteria. Over the years, these criteria have been refined in an effort to make it more worthwhile and meaningful. There are currently three tests to determine an LDC. The first and most important condition is per capita income. This per capita computation has been adjusted every year based on the current economic situation, the rate of inflation and the value of currency. Second is the human assets index, indicating the level of education, literacy, health conditions, women's empowerment and other relevant indicators. The third is the economic vulnerability index--to determine how a country is able to protect itself against external vulnerability, such as currency fluctuations, economic depressions, falling commodity prices, etc. Once these three factors are combined, there is a very complex system that the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) uses to judge each eligible country. This is done every three years, including evaluating the list for "graduation" eligibility. A country having these three criteria is considered an LDC, and if it surmounts any two of them, it is then eligible for graduation.
Another important aspect of the graduation process is the recent decision of the General Assembly concerning the concept of a "smooth transition"--a period of three years--for eligible LDCs to be more comfortable with the situation following graduation. Graduating LDCs would like that the UN system and other development partners will come together during this transition period. We believe that graduating from the list should be seen as a recognition of these countries' efforts for doing well. This year, the Committee has identified five more countries for graduation, which will be up for a final decision in three years' time. In 2004, Cape Verde and the Maldives were identified for graduation; Samoa is up for a decision this year. But despite this good news, the number of LDCs has doubled in the last three decades. We now have 50 LDCs on the list.
What are the reasons for the increase in the number of LDCs?
Many of the reasons have been beyond the control of LDCs. The global economic system has an impact, as well as commodity prices, conflicts and now HIV/AIDS--all these things have made the economic and social development process of LDCs much more difficult. During the last decade, these countries have been unable to benefit from the inexorable globalization process that we are experiencing. They were so far down at the bottom rung of the ladder that it was simply not possible for them to take advantage of it.
Another constraint has been the lack of clear accountability and transparency in the use of development assistance. In the past, evaluations by development partners or national authorities were not very well established--there were few ways to track how aid was being used. There was also a lack of prioritization in the use of development assistance. Aid was engaged sometimes in big cosmetic projects, such as building big dams or bridges, and not in focusing on human development. I would also say that truly committed national leadership with a vision was lacking. This is an area that still needs attention, and the United Nations is working on that. These are some of the reasons why those original LDCs stayed on the list, except for the graduation of Botswana, while new countries were added. …