Coronavirus: Let’s not forget the world’s poorest countries

By Paul Akiwumi, Director of UNCTAD’s Division for Africa and Least Developed Countries


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.
This blog is also a part of a thread looking more specifically at the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).


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Girls washing dishes in Lome, Togo. Photo: Jordan Rowland

The novel coronavirus pandemic has rapidly thrown the world into uncharted territory. As COVID-19 diagnoses rise globally, the World Health Organization has reported more than 7,000 cases in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs). While these numbers seem small compared with the thousands of cases being reported daily across hotspots like Spain, the United States, and Italy, chances are that this low number of diagnosed cases will not last for long. Of the 41 LDCs reporting cases, 33 countries have now confirmed local transmission. Bangladesh has surpassed 2400 cases, while Afghanistan and Djibouti have reported more than 800 COVID-19 infections. With limited testing available in the LDCs due to already fragile health systems and limited access, especially in rural areas, these numbers are likely to be even higher and will continue to rise. Continue reading

The COVID-19 Scourge: How affected are the Least Developed Countries?

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By Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), and Fareha Raida Islam, Programme Associate, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


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Dhaka, Bangladesh – March, 2020:  Lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Shutterstock

The scourge of COVID-19 continues to devastate life and livelihoods across the world. While the global community assesses the possible impact of this pandemic and commits to take action, it is becoming evident that the consequences will be more pronounced in the weaker economies, and possibly catastrophic in the least developed countries (LDCs) – a group of countries that share multiple structural vulnerabilities. A targeted package of international support measures for LDCs, realigning existing programmes, is urgently needed.

Vulnerabilities of the least developed countries

About a quarter of the United Nations’ members (47 countries) are LDCs, accounting for 12% of world population, against less than 2% of global GDP and less than 1% of global trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). These countries, penalised by geography and history, host about 40% of the world’s poor. Almost all are climate-change affected nations, and a large number are fragile states. Only about 18% of the population in LDCs have access to internet – the vast majority are victims of the digital divide. LDC governments on average spend less than 2% of their country’s GDP on public healthcare. Continue reading

Covid-19: time to unleash the power of international co-operation

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By Mario Pezzini, Director, OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development


This blog* is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


Development co-operationThe rapid spread of the dire human, social and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis shows just how interconnected we are. International co-operation has become –literally– vital.

A health crisis has set off a global economic crisis, where shocks on the demand and supply sides are combining in an unprecedented scenario. Many developing countries are bracing themselves. While Europe is struggling to contain and cope with a spiralling number of cases and fatalities, the effects in countries where health systems are already weak, economies are highly dependent on global demand, and strict containment policies are more difficult to implement, could be even more disastrous.

Major outbreaks in developing countries could cause the collapse of weak health systems and expose gaps in social protection programmes, especially in Africa, where so many schemes rely on official development assistance. A humanitarian crisis may be in the making: travel restrictions affect the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and infections in refugee camps – largely hosted in developing countries – will be difficult to fight. The ILO estimates that 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide, possibly more, as the majority of workers in developing countries are in the informal economy. Continue reading

Three trade challenges for LDCs to converge and eradicate poverty

By Anabel González, Nonresident Senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; Former Costa Rica Minister of Trade, World Bank Senior Director for Trade & Competitiveness, and World Trade Organization Director for Agriculture


This blog is part of a special series marking the 3 July 2019 launch in Geneva of the joint OECD/WTO publication Aid for Trade at a Glance 


AFT coverBangladesh is preparing to graduate from the category of least developed countries (LDCs). Robust multi-year economic growth of more than 6-7% has helped this South Asian nation make remarkable progress in reducing extreme poverty from 44.2% in 1991 to 13.9% in 2017. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2015; it now aspires to become an upper middle-income country by its 50th anniversary in 2021. Trade has been at the heart of this success story (see Figure 1). Exports of textiles and garments are driving integration into the global economy, with new products becoming part of the country’s export basket. Will Bangladesh be able to continue to rely on trade for increased growth? Will conditions remain for other LDCs to follow?

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