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Least developed countries report 2012: facts and figures

Geneva, Switzerland, 26 November 2012

The Least Developed Countries Report 20121, subtitled Harnessing Remittances and Diaspora Knowledge to Build Productive Capacities, was released today.

Migration trends

-The number of people having emigrated from LDCs rose from 19 million in 2000 to 27 million in 2010. This amounts to 3.3% of their populations.
-LDCs account for 13% of the worldwide total of emigrants – similar to LDCs' share of world population (12.1%).
-Four fifths of LDC emigrants live in developing countries (the South) and only one fifth in developed countries (the North).


-Remittances grew almost eight-fold between 1990 and 2011: from US$3.5 billion to $27 billion. Since 2008 they have continued rising despite the onset of and fallout from the world financial and economic crisis.
-In 2011, remittances to LDCs were almost double the value of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to these countries ($15 billion) and were only exceeded by official development assistance (ODA) as a source of foreign financing ($42 billion in 2010).
-Remittance receipts per LDC inhabitant tripled between 2000 and 2010 from $10 to $30.
-Remittances are much more important for LDCs than for other country groups. In LDCs, remittances amount to 4.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 15% of exports. These shares are three times higher than in other developing countries (non-LDCs).
-From 2008 through 2010, remittances corresponded to more the one fifth of the GDPs of Lesotho, Samoa, Haiti, and Nepal.
-From 2009 through 2011, Nepal and Haiti received more foreign exchange from remittances than from exports. 
-For nine LDCs, remittance flows exceeded receipts of both FDI and ODA in 2008–2010: Bangladesh, Haiti, Lesotho, Nepal, Samoa, Senegal, Sudan, Togo, and Yemen. In eight other LDCs over that period, remittances surpassed FDI: Benin, Burundi, Comoros, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, and Uganda.
-Two thirds of LDC remittances originate in developing countries.
-Worldwide, the cost of remitting money amounts to 9% of the value sent; in the case, of LDCs the cost (at 12%) is one third higher.
-If countries in sub-Saharan Africa had paid world average remittance fees, their receipts would have been $6 billion higher in 2010.
-Just three countries accounted for 66% of all remittances to LDCs from 2009–2011: Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sudan.
-LDCs have now more mobile phone subscriptions (368 per 1,000 inhabitants) than bank accounts (171 per 1,000 inhabitants). Mobile phones can potentially be used to receive and send remittances.

Brain drain

-One out of every five highly skilled (that is, university-educated) persons from LDCs lives abroad. In developed countries, the proportion is one in 25.
-Six LDCs have more tertiary-educated people living abroad than at home: Haiti, Samoa, Gambia, Tuvalu, and Sierra Leone.
-Two thirds of high-skilled emigrants from LDCs live in developed countries; one third live in developing countries
-The brain drain rate (that is, the share of highly skilled nationals living abroad) is considered "high" (above 20%) in most LDCs (30 out of 48).
-An estimated 2 million university-educated persons from LDCs live and work abroad.
-The higher the income level of host countries, the more selective is its immigration. In developed countries, 35% of immigrants are university-educated; in LDCs, just 4% of immigrants have the same level of education. These shares apply to immigrants coming from all countries, but similar proportions also apply to immigrants originating from LDCs.
-One third of LDC university-educated emigrants live in just one country: the United States.

Macroeconomic performance

-The annual economic growth rate of LDCs since the world economic crisis (2009–2011) was 4.7%, significantly lower than during the boom years (2003–2008): 7.9%. This means that the annual growth rate of income per inhabitant declined from 5.4% during the boom period to 2.4%.
-The average real growth rate of GDP of LDCs in 2011, at 4.2%, was even lower than the 4.9% growth they recorded in 2009 in the midst of the global recession.
-Gross fixed capital formation in the LDCs rose slightly from 20.7% of GDP in 2005–2007 to 21.6% in 2008–2010. Still, it remained well below that of other developing countries, which achieved a rate of 30.1% in the latter period
-LDCs continue to be very dependent on external resources. The current account deficit was higher than 20% of GDP in five LDCs in 2011, while in another 13 LDCs it stood above 10% of GDP
-The resource gap (reliance on external sources to finance domestic investment) in 2008–2010 was around 15% of GDP for non-oil exporting LDCs.
-62% of exports from the 48 LDCs originated from just five countries: Angola, Bangladesh, Equatorial Guinea, Yemen, and Sudan. Except for Bangladesh, these nations are oil exporters.
-LDC exports depend strongly on one product (oil), which generates 46% of their total export revenues.
-More than half of LDC exports (54%) were destined for developing countries in 2011, confirming the rising importance of South-South trade. China accounted for 26.4% of LDC exports, surpassing the European Union (20.4%) and the United States (19%).


Forty-eight countries currently are designated by the United Nations as “least developed countries” (LDCs). They are distributed among the following regions:

Africa (33):  Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia;

Asia (9):  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Timor-Leste and Yemen;

Caribbean (1):  Haiti;

Pacific (5):  Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Figure 1 – 48 least developed countries (LDCs)
Source: UNCTAD

Establishing the LDC list

The list of LDCs is reviewed every three years by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, based on recommendations by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP).

In its latest review of the list in March 2012, the CDP used the following three criteria:

1.  A per capita income criterion, based on the gross national income (GNI) per capita (a 3-year average), with a threshold of $992 for cases of addition to the list, and a threshold of $1,190 for cases of graduation from LDC status;
2.  A human assets criterion, based on a composite index (the Human Assets Index) which includes indicators of nutrition, health, school enrolment, and literacy;
3. An economic vulnerability criterion, based on a composite index (the Economic Vulnerability Index) which includes indicators of natural shocks, trade-related shocks; physical exposure to shocks, economic exposure to shocks, smallness, and remoteness.

For all three criteria, different thresholds are used for identifying cases of addition to the list of LDCs and cases of graduation from the list. A country will qualify to be added to the list if it meets addition thresholds on all three criteria, and does not have a population greater than 75 million. A country will normally qualify for graduation from LDC status if it has met graduation thresholds under at least two of the three criteria in at least two consecutive triennial reviews of the list. However, if the GNI per capita of an LDC has risen to a level at least double the graduation threshold, the country will be deemed eligible for graduation regardless of its performance under the other two criteria.

Only three countries have so far graduated from the list of LDCs: Botswana in December 1994, Cape Verde in December 2007, and Maldives in January 2011. Samoa's graduation is planned to take place on 1 January 2014. ECOSOC, in July 2009, endorsed the CDP's recommendation to graduate Equatorial Guinea and in July 2012, accepted the CDP’s recommendation that Vanuatu graduate. Further endorsement by the General Assembly is required for these two countries to officially become graduate from the ranks of LDCs.


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