Magazine article UN Chronicle

Helping the Poorest of the Poor

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Helping the Poorest of the Poor

Article excerpt

Helping the poorest of the poor

Agreeing on how to help some of the poorest of the Earth's poor help themselves--more than 400 million people in 42 countries--is the goal of the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (3 to 14 September, Paris). The Conference is expected to adopt a Programme of Action to acelerate development in those countries through the year 2000.

A similar programme for the 1980s was not fully implemented, due in part to a slump in commodity prices, inadequate international support and considerable domestic obstacles within these least developed countries (LDCs), including high population growth rates, increasing military expenditures, poor investment incentives and socially painful and economically lacklustre adjustment programmes.

Unlike its predecessor, the 1990s' Programme gives wider recognition to the role of the private sector, accepts the need for structural adjustment programmes, squarely addresses the issue of population and emphasizes the importance of the role of women.

Poverty rules

Poverty is widespread in the LDCs, 28 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Human life there can be harsh and brief. Dismal world records abound: LDCs have the lowest per capita income ($200 a year), literacy rates (two thirds of adults cannot read or write) and life expectancy on the planet. Population growth, on the other hand, is so high that food production is unable to keep pace with it. Chronic diseases, malnutrition and hunger are everyday happenings.

Drought, desertification, vulnerability to natural disaster and lack of direct access to the sea--geography and climate--also conspire to keep these countries poor. Because they barely are able to produce industrial or manufactured goods, LDCs desperately depend on selling their commodities--such as coffee, rice, cocoa beans--abroad to get precious hard currency. This makes them virtual prisoners of fickle international commodity markets and price fluctuations.

What to do?

The Paris Conference must struggle with a number of issues left unresolved by its Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee, which met in Geneva for two weeks in April to work out the draft Programme of Action to be adopted in Paris. …

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