UN accepts South Sudan as the 49th Least Developed Country

By Peter Lokale Nakimangole, 23 December 2012: This takes effect immediately and increases to 49 the number of countries benefiting from LDC status, which will help those economies that are deemed structurally most disadvantaged, and most likely to experience difficulties in their efforts to emerge from poverty.

South Sudan, a land-locked country with an estimated population of 8.3 million, declared its independence on 9th July 2011, and became the 193rd member of the United Nations five days later. After more than two decades of hostilities between the northern and southern parts of Sudan (itself an LDC since 1971), the new Republic of South Sudan is a nation with a daunting reconstruction agenda.

The one year old nation which broke away from Sudan last year after ending decades of civil war experiences incredible challenges including shortage of food and basic needs.

The United Nations had early this year warned at least 4.7 million South Sudanese lack enough food this year and called for appropriate policies to confront the threat.

The infant nation is also grasping on how to overcome high maternal and infant mortality rate in which the UN said is one of the countries ranking high in the world.

On a brink of war with Sudan four months ago, new nation is also battling with home insecurity that bars efforts to boost economic growth, limiting expansion of the private sector that would contribute in intensifying service provision in the poor nation.

Government spokesperson, Barnaba Marial in August said joining the club will increase opportunities for the country to overcome the hard felt socio-economic and political challenges that sprung after the country’s secession.

More than half of the population is estimated to live in absolute poverty, with an economy based on subsistence agriculture for a vast majority of the people. Yet South Sudan is an oil-rich nation with great potential for exports of hydrocarbons.

The estimated gross national income per capita, based on 2008-2010 data relevant to Southern Sudan’s share of the previously united country’s oil output, is equivalent to US $989, a figure only marginally below the admission threshold used by the United Nations to recognize a country’s eligibility for LDC status.

However, the nation’s 2012 per capita income level, though not statistically available, is likely to be considerably lower as South Sudan halted its oil output in January 2012, owing to a dispute with Sudan, the only existing transit corridor for South Sudan’s oil exports.

With an estimated secondary school enrolment ratio of only 6% and less than 50% of its overall population considered undernourished, South Sudan stands at only 24% of the human assets threshold for LDC eligibility. At the same time, South Sudan’s economic vulnerability is deemed 39% higher than the relevant threshold of admission on the list of LDCs.

This overall socio-economic situation led the UN’s Committee for Development Policy, in March 2012, to recognize South Sudan’s qualification for LDC status, a denomination now entitling the new State to expect LDC-specific concessions from development partners, notably foreign aid and technical assistance for institutional capacity-building.

The last two additions to the list of LDCs were Senegal and Timor-Leste, in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Yet the probability of seeing more additions to the list of LDCs in the short term is low, and growing attention is turning to the prospects for graduation from LDC status, in accordance with the UN’s vision of halving the number of countries with LDC status by the end of the current decade.

Three countries have already graduated from LDC status (Botswana in 1994, Cape Verde in 2007, Maldives in 2011), and three more are likely to graduate from the category in 2014 or 2015 (Equatorial Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu).

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) role was central to the genesis of the LDC category, politically and substantively. Since LDC status was established in November 1971, UNCTAD, which organized the first three United Nations conferences on the Least Developed Countries, has consistently striven to help relevant countries make the best possible use of LDC status as a platform for special attention and special treatment.

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