The international community has been urged to stand by its commitment to support the development of the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries while in Cambodia – despite its rapid economic growth – the United Nations warns of environmental risks that could undermine sustainable development.
The call came as representatives from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) from around the world gathered in Antalya, Turkey, last week for the midterm review of the Istanbul Program of Action (IPoA), a 2011 plan that built a metric for a country’s overall progress based on modernisation and poverty reduction.
Helen Clark, undersecretary-general and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) administrator, said that after five years since the IPoA had been adopted, most of the LDCs had made measurable progress. However, the main challenges of low global integration and poverty reduction persist.
“Fifty-one per cent of the populations in LDCs are still living in extreme poverty and 18 million children of school age are not in school,” she said. “Despite LDCs having 12.5 per cent of the world’s population, their exports account for only 1.1 per cent of the global total.”
UNDP and its sister agencies are fully committed to support LDCs efforts on IPoA in eight priorities by 2021, including building productivity capacity, she said.
“LDCs have made significant progress and are a major human and natural resource potential for the world,” said Gyan Chandra Acharya, United Nations high representative for LDCs and the UN undersecretary-general for the event.
The UN’s conference on LDCs is held every 10 years to assess and monitor countries social and economic development. In the ASEAN region, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are classified as LDCs.
Cambodian Secretary of State from the Ministry of Planning Toun Thavrak, who represented the Cambodian government, declined to comment and did not officially speak at the event. However, according to a 23-page report submitted by the UN, Cambodia had achieved some of its goals set out by the IpoA.
The report said that the Kingdom had been improving its production capacity in the areas of agriculture, food security, rural development, trade and commodities.
According to the report, Cambodia is now on track to jump from a low-income nation to lower middle income by 2030, and graduate into upper-income nation by 2050. In order to achieve this, Cambodia needs to maintain economic growth at 7 per cent.
Although economic performance has been positive and consistent for the last five years, the country needs to reduce poverty through mobilising financial resources for development and by creating good governance across all bureaucratic levels.
“Cambodia also needs to enhance its agricultural productivity, tourism and manufacturing sectors to increase its competitiveness and improve access to credit for small and medium enterprises.”
While Cambodia has been able to achieve some success, the report glaringly pointed out that the Kingdom’s massive deforestation, where forest cover dropped from 63.7 per cent in 2000 to 49.8 per cent last year, would further erode its natural resources, putting rice and fishery farming at risk.
“To underscore concerns on the environment, it must be recognised that preserving forests, water and the environment are central to sustainable development. Therefore, pressure on limited natural resources threatened by mankind in the name of development must be addressed,” the report stated.
According to Acharya, Cambodia needs to “embark on structural transformation and reduce their vulnerability to economic crisis and natural disasters”, he said.
“Cambodia is close to meeting its 2021 goals, but more immediately we are hoping that its progress is sustainable, not just accelerated. But I hope that it can continue to progress to the point where it is able to get out of least developed status,” he said.