Why the world's most vulnerable must take center stage in post-2015 development agenda

    Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya, U.N. high representative for the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states. Photo by: UN Multimedia

    As we try to shape the contours of the post-2015 development agenda, we have to take cognizance of the special needs and unique challenges of the world’s most vulnerable countries. They are the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states.

    It is particularly in these countries that we face the acute challenges of eradicating poverty, promoting rapid and inclusive economic growth and building resilience, given their immense capacity constraints. It is therefore obvious that by providing due priority to these countries, there is a great opportunity to get rid of extreme poverty from the face of the Earth.

    It is true that the eradication of poverty has never been attempted before, but we should have this ambition now. The world cannot wait for it any longer.

    We have the means and tools to do so. We should summon the necessary political will, devise the right strategies and employ sufficient resources to make this happen.

    This is not only a moral imperative; It is an immensely sensible thing to do in a globalized world. It is in the enlightened self-interest of each and every country and the global community as a whole. Populations living in abject poverty deserve it sooner than later.

    There is certainly reason to applaud the substantial gains that these vulnerable countries have made in achieving some of the targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals. Even in these countries, the level of poverty has decreased. Child and maternal mortality rates have come down. Gender empowerment is progressing and the spread of deadly diseases has plateaued. Encouragingly, access to education and public services has improved.

    However, we cannot continue to be oblivious of the stark reality that the progress has been uneven and insufficient. Given their low initial conditions, there is a long way to go to attain these global goals in general, and in an equitable manner in these countries.

    With less than 800 days before the MDG deadline in 2015, every effort ought to be made to accelerate its implementation. Concomitantly, it is incumbent on the global community to ask itself what more should be done to ensure that the needs and concerns of the poorest will be better met and the goal of poverty eradication achieved.

    It is important to recognize that even today after so much efforts, 47 percent of the nearly 850 million inhabitants of the least developed countries live on less than $1.25 per day. And hunger and malnutrition are a constant challenge for about a third of the population there.

    What should we do differently?

    Now that we face newer and complex challenges of recurrent volatility, the impact of climate change and the depletion of natural capital as well, we should take endemic poverty and inequality, the protection of environment and natural capital, and economic transformation and employment-intensive growth in a more holistic and integrated manner than before. Therefore, the MDG focus on human and social development and the Rio+20 focus on poverty alleviation in the context of sustainable development have to be complemented by a rapid, inclusive, sustainable and job-rich economic growth.

    The Fourth Conference of the LDCs in Istanbul in 2011 was very clear in its enhanced focus on growth and structural transformation of their economies. As such, it has laid a strong emphasis on productive capacity building through rapid development of infrastructure, access to sustainable energy and development of agriculture which would contribute to the creation of employment and decent jobs.

    This type of structural change in the economy will also help boost the domestic resource base in the medium term. Therefore, structural transformation of these economies based on improved productive capacity building should find a strong resonance and prominence in the post-2015 development agenda. Our narrative has to focus on long-term structural transformation of their economies. This is also what we have found in a recent study done by my office.

    Enhanced human and social development, rapid and inclusive economic transformation and environmental sustainability reinforce each other in these countries. They are various facets of the same reality. As a large majority of the people — about two-thirds of them — still live in rural areas in these countries, it is only natural that they consider protecting the natural capital and building resilience as part of the inherent strategy of economic growth and prosperity for them. Green growth is what they are looking for.

    We have seen that strong national ownership and leadership, the right strategy and policies, capable and strong institutions, availability of resources and robust international solidarity and support measures are crucial to make progress in all of these areas. This is as much an issue of global solidarity and support as national responsibility and efforts of these countries.

    We must therefore make sure that the post-2015 development agenda comes out strongly on resource mobilization and support mechanisms to help those which are least capable and who bear the burden of a high proportion of the poor in relation to their total population. They deserve due priority for international support.

    For the 31 nations classified by the United Nations as landlocked developing countries, the main challenge is geography and its attendant drawbacks, including remoteness from major international markets, inadequate infrastructure and high transport and transaction costs. As a consequence, many LLDCs find themselves marginalized from the world economy, cut off from the global flows of knowledge, technology, capital and innovations, and unable to benefit substantially from external trade. This has affected their development prospects, including sustained economic growth, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. Today, half of the LLDCs are also least developed and their income status and social and human development level — barring a few of them — are almost at the bottom of the development pyramid.

    The most recent progress report shows that the LLDCs have made some progress in meeting the targets of the MDGs. However, of increasing concern has been the slow progress made toward poverty reduction, food security, improved sanitation and the reduction of maternal mortality. It is clear that much remains to be done in LLDCs as well.

    There is a need for an enhanced level of global support to address the serious gaps in transit policies and infrastructure, transport development, trade facilitation and regional cooperation. For example, export-import costs for LLDCs in 2013 were 2.5 times more than those of the coastal countries. They are accompanied by cumbersome and inefficient transit procedures and lack of basic infrastructure which pose the greatest impediment to LLDCs’ trade competitiveness, equitable access to global markets, and overall welfare of the people.

    The upcoming conference on the landlocked developing countries slated for 2014 is an ideal opportunity for the international community to collectively support these countries as they endeavor to improve their transport, transit, trade and development prospects. The outcome of this conference should find strong reflection in the post-2015 development agenda to make sure that these issues are taken on board by the international community in an integrated manner.

    As the world contemplates a post-MDG vision, small island developing states are committed to ensuring the eventual framework recognizes that these countries confront a higher degree of vulnerability. As a result, greater attention should be given to their specific challenges.

    It is now well established that one of the primary challenges of small islands is the disproportionate and serious impacts of climate change on their livelihoods, including threat to their very survival in some cases. While SIDS’ contribution is negligible, they bear the greatest burden of climate change. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification and salinization of aquifers, depleting marine resources and infrastructure constraints are real and present dangers with long-term consequences.

    Similarly, remoteness from the global markets, high energy costs, the volatility of tourism and frequency of natural disasters combined with low-level of human development and capacity constraints make sustainable development extremely challenging for these countries. Financing constraints have also hugely affected their capacity to build a resilient society and economy.

    Ambitious and legally binding mitigation measures, strong financing mechanisms and delivery on adaptation and robust, comprehensive and multistakeholder partnerships and global solidarity for building resilience are critical for these countries to ensure sustainable development and progress.

    The small island developing states have a fortuitous opportunity to not only influence but drive the post-2015 development agenda, given the timing of the Third International Conference on SIDS, which is to be held in September 2014 in Apia, Samoa.

    Finally, the post-2015 development agenda will have to be holistic, inclusive and universal. However, it has to take into account the particular challenges of the countries in special situations. The least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states have the most at stake as the world builds a post-2015 framework for international development cooperation.

    Overseas development assistance commitment should be fulfilled as these countries are heavily dependent upon it for development. And as we look toward expanded objectives, the ODA-PLUS agenda will be crucial for these countries. Their demands are growing and the development landscape is also changing. They are looking for strong commitment, support, and coherence in trade, investment, technology and South-South cooperation.

    The people in these groups of countries suffer from unacceptable deprivation and extreme vulnerabilities. It is important that we all listen to the voices of the people in these countries, respond to their aspirations to get out of poverty, ensure the protection of the natural capital on which these people are directly dependent and make globalization and global solidarity work for them in an inclusive manner.

    There is a golden opportunity to fulfill all these objectives with prescient, targeted and coherent global goals. And now is the time to rise to the occasion.

    Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya is a confirmed speaker at the European Development Days 2013 to be held on Nov. 26-27 in Brussels. Live web-streaming of 20 high-level sessions will be available on the EDD13 website during the two days of the forum. For in-depth analysis and exclusive interviews with decision makers and thought leaders, stay tuned to Devex, an official EDD13 media partner.

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    About the author

    • Gyan Chandra Acharya

      Gyan Chandra Acharya is the United Nations under-secretary general and high representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. He is an active member of the Broadband Commission and his office has spearheaded the establishment of the new Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries.