Since 1971, the United Nations has denominated "Least Developed Countries" (LDCs) a category of States that are deemed highly disadvantaged in their development process (many of them for geographical reasons), and facing more than other countries the risk of failing to come out of poverty. As such, the LDCs are considered to be in need of the highest degree of attention on the part of the international community.
Four United Nations Conferences on the Least Developed Countries were held in 1981, 1990, 2001, and 2011 under the leadership of UNCTAD. The fourth conference (Istanbul, 9-13 May 2011) agreed on the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020. By periodically reviewing the list of LDCs on the basis of established criteria and highlighting their structural problems in relevant UNCTAD publications, the UN gives a strong signal to the development partners of these countries, and points to the need for special international support measures and concessions in their favour.
The list of LDCs is reviewed every three years by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in the light of recommendations by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP).
The following three criteria were used by CDP in the latest review of the list, in March 2012:
Low income, based on a three-year average estimate of the gross national income (GNI) per capita, with a threshold of $992 for possible cases of addition to the list, and a threshold of $1,190 for graduation from LDC status.
Weak human assets, as measured through a composite Human Assets Index.
Economic vulnerability, as measured through a composite Economic Vulnerability Index.