Committed to connecting the world

UN Conference on LDCs

UN Conference on LDCs  

Midterm Review of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010
(18-20 September, 2006, New York)

Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries  
ITU contributes to the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries The world's 49 least developed countries gathered in Brussels (14-20 May 2001) for the third United Nations Conference on LDCs amid very volatile weather oscillating from sunshine to rain and from rain to near-freezing temperatures. A comment passed by one longtime Brussels resident sums it up in these words: "In Brussels, one can experience seven seasons in a single day."
The UN General Assembly convened this conference at a time when most of the LDCs were calling on the international community to do more to rescue their cash-strapped economies and thus end their isolation from global trade and eradicate poverty. Facts on the ground justify this "mayday". In 1971, the international community identified 25 LDCs. But this number has since risen steadily, reaching 48 in 1994 and 49 in 2001 (see map). What is more worrying is that throughout these years, only one country (Botswana) succeeded in "graduating" from the LDC group, having achieved a high socio-economic development that also includes a booming telecommunication sector.

Hopefully, the Programme of Action (POA) which the Brussels Conference adopted on 20 May 2001 for the 2001-2010 decade will unlock the door to the cornu copiae or horn of plenty for the 630 million people in the LDCs who, according to the United Nations, live on less than a dollar a day. The POA is based on international development targets, as well as on actions by LDCs themselves, accompanied by commensurate support measures from their development partners. At this conference, ITU presented a whole gamut of projects which it has initiated for the benefit of LDCs.The high dosage of telecommunication issues in the newly endorsed POA is a clear reflection of ITU's active role. Of significant importance is the incorporation into the POA of ITU's Special Programme for LDCs (see below). This POA sets, as targets for telecommunications and information and communication technologies (ICT) for LDCs, an average teledensity of 5 main lines (ML) per 100 inhabitants and 10 Internet users per 100 inhabitants by the year 2010. A Special Session of the UN General Assembly is to be held in 2006 to conduct a comprehensive mid-term review of the POA. ​
​ ​
 The Brussels Conference set a new goal for LDCs calling for an average teledensity of 5 main lines per 100 inhabitants by the year 2010 (ITU 010048)

The first United Nations Conference on LDCs was held in Paris in 1981 at the invitation of the French Government. The international community used the occasion to unanimously adopt a Special New Programme of Action (SNPA) for LDCs for the 1980s. This SNPA set out guidelines and international support measures for domestic action by the LDCs themselves. The second United Nations Conference on LDCs was also held in Paris in September 1990. This time, the conference ended with the Paris Declaration and a Programme of Action for the 1990s. The main thread running through the two documents is the call to the international community to take urgent measures and effective action, based on the principle of shared responsibility and strengthened partnership, to arrest and reverse the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the LDCs and so revitalize their growth and development. Looking back, did the first two conferences achieve their intended goals? This is debatable! Most analysts refer to the period as "lost decades" as conditions in the LDCs are said to have actually worsened during that time. Besides, most developed nations, except the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, had not met their official development assistance (ODA) targets to the LDCs. What can be said with certainty, according to the Brussels Conference, is that more has to be done in translating words into action. The slogan should be: "Implementation for development ever and failure to act never!" For its part, ITU became involved in the work of LDCs in the 1970s when the General Assembly approved the first list of these countries. At the first two conferences, ITU vigorously championed the cause of LDCs by raising the world's awareness on the poor state of telecommunications in these countries and the need to channel resources to their telecommunication sector. ITU became involved in the work of least developed countries in the 1970s, and has since championed their cause by raising the world's awareness on the poor state of Telecommunications in these countries and the need to channel resources to their telecommunication sector. ITU itself is determined to bring telecommunications to the peoples of the LDCs through its Special Programme.
Group antennas near the village of Bijou (Haïti)


Photo: A. de Ferron (ITU 940010)

Dish antennas of the Intelsat earth station of Sagamarta (Nepal)


Photo: J.-M. Micaud (ITU 930049)

Photo: A. de Ferron (ITU 950015)

Public telephone booths in front of Phnom Penh post office (Cambodia)


Photo: J.-M. Micaud (ITU 99081)

This leitmotif was visible in ITU's publications and presentations at the Brussels Conference, where ITU was represented by the Deputy Secretary-General, Roberto Blois, and the Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, Hamadoun Touré, along with staff from the Special Unit for LDCs and the EC-DC project. Among these key publications was the Telecommunications and Information and Communication Technologies in the Least Developed Countries (1989-1999). According to this report, 13 of the 49 LDCs have a main line density that is greater than 1, which is as good as, or in some cases better than, the average density in other low-income developing countries. This is quite evident in small countries where there is generally a close relationship between telecommunication development and the level of socio-economic development and a strong inverse correlation among the LDCs between the size of population and teledensity. The average teledensity in LDCs with a population below 4 million inhabitants is four times greater than that of those with a population above 4 million. Understandably, there are compelling reasons for this:
  • It is generally easier to provide a telephone service to a small, clustered and urbanized population than to a large, dispersed rural population. Maintenance and planning is simplified since fewer telephone exchanges are needed and there is less overhead resulting from national long-distance telecommunications.
  • Many of the smaller economies are islands with a significant tourist trade. Tourists make international calls, generating foreign exchange for the network operator that can be used for telecommunication equipment imports. Studies show a relationship between tourism and international telephone traffic.
  • In a disproportionate number of cases, the telecommunication service among the smaller economies is provided by a foreign-owned service provider, which may have greater access to resources, especially investment, than a domestically owned operator.
This revelation is encouraging although some 20 LDCs still have very low teledensity of below 0.5 ML per 100 inhabitants, or 1 telephone for 200 people, which represents a very poor state of telecommunications development in these countries. When the cellular phone subscribers' density is added, the number of countries falling above the 1 per cent teledensity threshold increases to 14. ITU is determined to fight to bring telecommunications to the peoples of LDCs. In recent years, there has been evidence of an upturn in telecommunication development in these countries. Rapid growth has been driven by sector reforms, which have been undertaken to varying degrees in many LDCs, and by the emergence of new technologies, which are more amenable to cost effective and rapid deployment. ITU's immediate aim is to fight the digital divide at a global level; this not only means between the technological rich countries and the "have-nots", but also between the urban and rural areas of LDCs. The objective should be to enable the population of LDCs to enjoy easy access, or rather universal access to telecommunications and its related services. This goes a long way towards the upholding of the relevant provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that calls for the eradication of barriers hindering access to ICTs by all in order that LDCs can leap-frog stages of development.
For further information, please contact:

Dr Cosmas Zavazava
Head, Special Unit for Least Developed Countries,
Small Island Developing States and Emergency Telecommunications
Telecommunication Development Bureau
International Telecommunication Union
Tel: +41 22 730 5447
Fax: +41 22 730 5484