Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are a category of countries identified by the United Nations as the most vulnerable in the world.
When the category was introduced in 1971, 24 countries were identified as LDCs. Today there are 48, and they account for 32 of the 35 countries in the lowest category of the Human Development Index (HDI) measured in terms of life expectancy, literacy, standard of living and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. Their combined population is approximately 750 million people. By 2015, the year the international community has targeted to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this population is projected to reach 942 million.
Africa: 33 countries – Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia.
Asia and the Pacific: 14 countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Kiribati, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Yemen.
Latin America and the Caribbean: 1 country – Haiti.
Some figures about LDCs:
- Women in LDCs have a 1 in 16 chance of dying in childbirth compared to 1 in 3,500 in North America;
- In sub-Saharan Africa, there are 4.1 million people with AIDS;
- 46% of girls in the world’s poorest countries have no access to primary education;
- 16% of LDC population have access to electricity compared to 53% in other developing countries;
- 22% of roads are paved in LDCs compared with 43% in developing countries and 88% in OECD countries.
While LDCs face many challenges they also have opportunities as many of them are the richest source of mineral wealth in the world:
- DR Congo has an estimated $24 trillion’s (equivalent to the combined Gross Domestic Product of Europe and the United States) worth of deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold and copper.
- Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, is one of the richest sources of uranium.
Despite three decades of special development attention, the development programmes have failed to address LDCs’ development challenges and constraints, or to help them benefit from their rich resources. LDCs’ debt burden has increased under globalisation, making them more vulnerable to economic shocks, and hit the hardest by food, fuel, climate and political crises.
- Despite their relatively low contribution to global warming, LDCs are disproportionately affected by climate change;
- LDCs constitute a quarter of the number of countries in the world, with a tenth of world population but their share in world exports is less than 1%;
- LDC products have preferential market access to the markets of the United States, the European Union and some developing countries. For most LDCs, exports to those markets have not significantly increased because the competitive goods they produce are excluded;
- Agricultural subsidies in the developed countries drive down global prices, depriving LDCs of income and increasing poverty among small holder farmers.