United Nations General Assembly interactive hearings with civil society on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), in New York, April 1.

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LDCs: Developed Countries Didn’t Keep their Promises

“It is with great sadness that we have to report today that in relation with the 48 countries listed as LDCs the commitments included in the Millennium Declaration and the Brussels Program of Action (BPoA) are not being met,” said Roberto Bissio on behalf of Social Watch, at the United Nations General Assembly interactive hearings with civil society on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), in New York, April 1.

“Not only are most LDCs not on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the target year of 2015, but on a careful look at the three most essential social indicators --infant mortality, maternal health and primary school enrolment and survival-- over half of the LDCs for which there are indicators available are either regressing or making no progress at all,” added Bissio.

“In three decades since the UN established the focus on the Least Developed Countries the group has doubled from the 24 countries originally identified rather than disappeared” commented Arjun Karki, coordinator of LDC Watch at the opening of the hearing. “This is an indictment of failure”.

According to Social Watch, out of 40 LDCs for which there are data available, 31 did better in reducing infant mortality in the last decade of the 20th century than in the first of the new millennium, in spite of the unprecedented high prices for the commodities and agricultural products exported by the LDCs before the global financial and economic crisis that erupted in September 2008. Those favourable circumstances did not translate into development, even less so social development, because the developed partners did not keep their promises of an enabling international trade system, technology transfer, long term solutions to the debt problems and more and better aid, all of those part of Goal 8 of the MDGs, argued Bissio.

The crisis worsened the situation, not just because of the recession in the countries that used to be the locomotive of the world economy, “but also because of ‘collateral damage’ created by the anti-crisis measures, with unfavorable conditions for migrants, cuts in the aid budgets and a return to tied aid, subsidies to industries and services that are ‘too big to fail’ without a corresponding compensation for those that are ‘too poor to fail’,” expressed the coordinator of Social Watch.

“Women usually suffer the impact of the crisis more, in their effort to substitute with unpaid work the absence or deterioration of social services. Children deprived now of adequate nourishment and attention will never recover completely later,” he stated.

“Good governance, democracy, and the right to associate and to express opinions freely, including by gathering in public squares is essential in all countries, irrespective of their level of development. Social Watch was created, precisely, to promote the accountability of governments without which there is no meaningful citizenship. But such accountability and good governance is to be demanded also of the powerful,” he told the audience.

“The ease with which trillions of dollars were mobilized to rescue the financial sector that ignited the global crisis with irresponsible behavior contrasts with the thrift and sluggishness in assisting the vulnerable. Few people can grasp what a trillion is, so in our popular education we say that if one second is a dollar, one million is 12 days, one billion is more than 30 years and a trillion brings us back to the times of the Pharaohs in Egypt. ‘If the poor were a bank, we would have been rescued,’ concluded one participant,” Bissio said.

“In practice, the rescue efforts go the other way around. Talking with a high ranking official of the finance ministry of an LDC country a few days ago, I learned how after much sacrifice the country had resumed growth and has now accumulated a solid 1.5 billion dollars in reserves. Those reserves are needed because the world finances are volatile and countries that opened their borders to financial flows need to defend themselves from speculative attacks. Which means that a major proportion of the sacrifice of low paid workers and the devastation of natural resources, instead of resulting in investments or social services, is piled up in unused reserves. The poorest countries accumulate treasury bonds of the richest countries, which is a form of providing them with soft loans that in turn create the financial bubbles that might lead to the next crisis and the unsustainable consumption patterns that are disrupting the global climate,” he added.

“In addressing the global crises and their impact over those countries and peoples that did the least to create them, the Istanbul conference provides an opportunity to reaffirm the responsibility of States and international institutions over those issues where the markets failed to correct themselves and made the problems worse. Reducing volatility and unpredictability in financial markets and addressing climate change with responsibility and a sense of historic justice will simultaneously free domestic resources, reduce risks and allow to mobilize new energies in such a way that no country and no vulnerable person needs to be left behind,” concluded Bissio.

“So what do we expect from this conference?” asked Dr. Karki. “Certainly not an outcome that rolls over the programmes of action of past decades, re-iterates commitments already made and yet again urges renewed efforts for their implementation. We have heard all this before and seen the results that are dismal”.

“We are calling for a world withut LDCs”, he emphasized. “We must mobilize all our energy and will to lift the poorest citizens of the world out of their misery, and collectively wipe the curse of being least developed off the face of the world.”