Making progress on sustainable development, four countries tipped to graduate from ranks of poorest

15 March 2018

Bhutan, Kiribati, São Tomé and Príncipe and Solomon Islands have been recommended for graduation from the special UN category for least developed countries.

With increasing national earning power as well as access to better health care and education, four countries - Bhutan, Kiribati, São Tomé and Principe and Solomon Islands - will be recommended for graduation from the list of 47 least developed countries, United Nations Committee for Development Policy (CDP) has said.

"This is a historic occasion," CDP Chair Jose Antonio Ocampo said. "In the 47 years since the start of the category, only five countries have previously left the list."

He added that two more countries, Vanuatu and Angola, are scheduled for graduation in 2020 and 2021.

The committee's recommendations follow increases in the national income in all countries, plus improved education and health. Government development policies, as well as an improved global economic environment and the coordinated efforts of the international community have also driven the progress.


"If the recommendation is endorsed by United Nations Economic and Social Council, 2018 has the potential to be a momentous year, increasing by more than half the total number of LDC graduates," Mr. Ocampo said. "Never before have so many countries been identified at a single review of the Committee for Development Policy."

Gaining momentum

Paul Akiwumi, UNCTAD's director for Africa and special programmes, which includes assistance to least developed countries, applauded Bhutan, Kiribati, São Tomé and Principe and Solomon Islands for their efforts to boost jobs, growth and social indicators.

"Since the international community devised the system of support to the most vulnerable countries by recognizing their structural disadvantages more than 50 years ago, a lot has been learned and shared about what it takes for a country to pursue economic and social development in sustainable and inclusive ways," Mr. Akiwumi said.

"Our Least Developed Countries Report in 2016 identified a path to 'graduation with momentum': put simply, this is a way for graduating countries to really embed these gains into the way their economies work and attain long-lasting transformation," he added.

"This means that while meeting graduation criteria is in itself to be welcomed, countries must safeguard this progress with far-sighted policies."

Climate shocks

In Bhutan and São Tomé and Principe, per capita gross national income (GNI) tripled, the under-five mortality rate declined and gross secondary enrolment more than doubled from 2003 to 2018. During that same period, the per capita GNI doubled for Solomon Islands while the country's gross secondary enrolment rate almost doubled.

While in Kiribati the per capita income almost tripled and it continues to perform very well in health and education since 2003, the Pacific island nation remains one of the most environmentally vulnerable LDCs due to its exposure to climate change.

For this reason, the CDP has recommended that Kiribati's graduation is contingent on the creation of a category of countries that are "highly vulnerable" to climate change and other environmental shocks, Mr. Ocampo said.

Other extremely vulnerable countries should also receive support targeting their specific vulnerabilities to climate change and environmental shocks like rising sea levels and increased storm activity, Mr. Ocampo said.

The LDC category is assessed using three criteria: human assets (health and education targets), economic vulnerability and GNI per capita.

"It is very important to us that the concept of LDCs be accepted in the UN system and, indeed, other international and financial institutions," Mr. Ocampo said.

Gradual graduation

Countries must meet two of the three criteria at two consecutive three-yearly reviews of the CDP to be considered for graduation. The CDP sends its recommendations to the UN Economic and Social Council for endorsement, which will then refer its decision to the UN General Assembly.

Bhutan, Kiribati, São Tomé and Príncipe and Solomon Islands each continue to meet the gross national income per capita and "human assets" criteria - health and education - but not the economic vulnerability criterion.

"It's good to see development efforts bearing fruit, but it is important for the international community to keep supporting these three countries in ways that will enable them to reduce their economic vulnerability in years to come," said Committee for Development Policy member Diane Elson of the University of Essex, United Kingdom.

She said that these signs of progress were particularly good news for rural women, noting that the CPD triennial review took place during the during the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York.

The committee acknowledged the Bhutanese government's request for graduation to become effective after the conclusion of the 12th National Development Plan 2018-2023, which will serve as the country's strategy for transition to non-LDC status.

Thinley Namgyel, Secretary of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Commission, said the transition period "presents a unique opportunity to mainstream the transition strategy into the national development plan and incorporate our obligation to fulfil the target of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals."

The graduating country has a grace period (normally three years) before graduation effectively takes place. This period, during which the country remains an LDC, is designed to enable the country and its development and trading partners to agree on a "smooth transition" strategy, so that the planned loss of LDC status does not disrupt the socioeconomic progress of the country.

To boldly go

In the case of São Tomé and Príncipe, the committee noted its government's request for a preparatory period longer than the standard three years.

"The country could use the extended preparatory period to embark on the transition process and to engage its trading and development partners and the United Nations system," Mr. Ocampo said.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Nelson Houenipwela said: "The prospect that we may be graduating from the list of LDCs is a positive step in our development path. It encourages us to be more bold in our approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and our own National Development Strategy."

The committee found that while Nepal and Timor-Leste also met the criteria for graduation, they were not recommended for graduation at this time due to economic and political challenges. These countries may again be considered for graduation at the next triennial review of the Committee for Development Policy in 2021 if they still meet the criteria.

Bangladesh, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Myanmar met the graduation criteria for the first time but would need to meet the criteria for a second time at the next triennial review in 2021 to become eligible to be considered for graduation.

The committee welcomed the efforts of the governments in all countries in increasing income, improving human assets and reducing their vulnerabilities.

About the Committee for Development Policy

The Committee for Development Policy is a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council. The CDP provides inputs and independent advice to this council on emerging cross-sectoral development issues and on international cooperation for development, focusing on medium- and long-term aspects. The committee is also responsible for reviewing the status of least developed countries and for monitoring their progress after graduation from the category.