World leaders and policymakers have a remarkable capacity to emulate progress without actually achieving anything. Earlier this month, leaders of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), parliamentarians, UN officials and representatives of civil society descended on Istanbul for the high-level LDC IV Summit. The agenda was to evaluate progress on the Brussels Programme of Action (BPoA) – a programme, adopted a decade ago, that explicitly outlined commitments made by the international community to help countries graduate from the LDC bracket. Now, although the determination to make progress towards the goals of poverty eradication, peace and development, are on paper, the stark reality is that the challenges and constraints that instigated BPoA remain ten years on. So where are we at?
Disappointingly, drafts of the Istanbul Programme of Action for 2011-2020 indicate that leaders have once again failed to take on board that the current approach to development is not sustainable. There is a glaring absence of a new global paradigm to promote development and reduce poverty. In fact, as the meeting drew to a close it became clear that the programme of action developed for the next decade did not even encapsulate the urgency required for a new development architecture for LDCs if any meaningful improvements are to occur. The Istanbul Programme of Action, while acknowledging that key goals of the BPoA remain outstanding, maintained existing notions that LDCs should take responsibility to foster development in their countries. It noted that viable institutions at national and domestic level in the LDCs should be given responsibility to implement these plans and should be included in the action plans identified for development. Time-bound targets and instruments that will hold governments accountable are, starkly, absent from the new Istanbul Programme of Action.
If history is a guide, long-standing policies adopted by the international community that were in a way maintained during the LDC Summit have clearly not been successful in reducing poverty, inequality and in sustaining development in the LDCs. This failure is illuminated by the fact that the number of LDCs currently stands at 48. In 1971, the United Nations identified 24 countries as LDCs. Tellingly, over the last three decades only three countries (Botswana in 1994, Cape Verde in 2007 and Maldives in 2011) have graduated from this bracket.
In spite of some progress in the economic standings of a number of LDCs over the last decade, extreme poverty is still a dominant feature, with over half of each LDC nation’s population living on US$1.25 a day and a staggering 78 per cent living on less than US$2 a day. Citizens in these countries continue to be at the receiving end of the serious environmental crises which are not of their making as multinational corporations collude with governments and exploit natural resources, causing serious environmental hazards. This poses serious threats to the livelihoods of citizens in LDCs, as they depend on the environment for their livelihoods. The high dependence of LDCs on revenue from natural resource exportation exposes these countries to fluctuations in global market prices, and even when trade in these resources increases it does not translate to sustainable levels of growth.
Future predictions show that unless a new international development architecture based on social justice and the international human rights framework is adopted, the status quo in LDCs will not improve. One thing is certain; the international community cannot afford to fail the LDCs anymore. In an increasingly interdependent world, the ill-effects of violent conflict, crushing poverty, and authoritarianism, social and political upheaval spread quickly beyond borders.
A new international development architecture replete with inclusive approaches (clear lines of participation of LDCs in the planning and implementation of key policies at global institutions and processes, and the removal of stringent conditionalities tied to aid), new structures and institutions should tackle the stunted progress head-on. Leaders of LDCs should demand accountability for the failure of the international community to live up to its promises for almost 15 per cent of the world’s population. More needs to be done to strengthen the growing levels of trade between LDCs and emerging developing states to increase South-South cooperation and reduce dependence on the developed states. It would also provide a strong basis through which LDCs could be fully integrated into the global economy. In this way, LDC summits might, for once, make a bad situation better.
David Kode is Policy Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.