20 June 2006

Economic Growth up in Least Developed Countries, but Poverty Rates Not Improving Overall

Poor Country Conundrum Reflected in Annual United Nations Progress Report

NEW YORK, 15 June (UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries) -- An increase in development aid since 2002 has raised health and education standards and hastened gender equality among the world's poorest nations, according to a new United Nations report released today.

The report adds that domestic reforms and a revival of oil and commodity prices have underpinned strong economic growth in many of the world's 50 least developed countries.

But despite signs of progress, extreme poverty has deepened, and overall social indicators remain cause for concern.

According to the report of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), chronic poverty continues to be aggravated by diseases such as HIV/AIDS and by environmental degradation.  And the positive impact of growth in many cases is mitigated by high birth rates and unequal distribution of resources.  Climate change is already taking a toll on many low-lying or island least developed countries, and is likely to pose a growing challenge to development in upcoming years, the report notes.

"The message we are getting from the least developed countries is that they are working hard to take advantage of economic opportunities and to deploy assistance from international partners", said Anwarul Chowdhury, the United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries.  "It is important the international community stays the course on promised aid, debt relief, tariff-free access for LDC exports and access to technology, as populations in these countries continue to struggle to escape extreme poverty."

Today's progress report, along with a political analysis coming out in July, are preludes to a September meeting of the General Assembly, which will assess midterm progress on the 10-year Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries agreed in Brussels in 2001.

Of the 50 least developed countries (34 in sub-Saharan Africa, 14 in South Asia and the Pacific and one -- Haiti -- in the Western hemisphere), 26, or more than half, recorded average annual growth rates of 4 per cent or better during 2000-2004.  Foreign direct investment has generally been on the upswing in these countries.

But this relatively strong showing was counterbalanced by an actual drop in per capita earnings in constant United States dollars, albeit over a longer period.  Thus, gross domestic product per capita, adjusted for inflation, actually decreased in 18 least developed countries between 1990 and 2004.  And seven of these nations experienced declining life expectancy, often in countries affected by AIDS.  Residents of Lesotho, for instance, have seen their expected life span drop by nearly 22 years between 1990 and 2005, from 58.3 to 36.7.

In contrast, trend lines for primary school education and gender equality in education, adult literacy, and access to sanitation and clean water are largely positive.

For more information, contact Ricardo Z. Dunn, Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, tel.:  1-917-367-2471, e-mail: ; or Oisika Chakrabarti, Department of Public Information, tel.:  1-212-963-8264, e-mail: .

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