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The World's Least Developed Countries

The United Nations provides a list of 46 nations across the world that are classified as the least developed countries.

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Phrases like developing country, newly industrialized country, emerging market, frontier market, and least developed country are used to indicate a nation’s level of industrialization, poverty, human resources, and economic stability. A least developed country is one that ranks extremely low on the Human Development Index (HDI) when compared to other countries in the world. A low HDI ranking suggests low life expectancies, low per capita incomes, low educational attainment, and high fertility rates (among other indicators). As of 2014, as many as 48 countries have least developed economies. Most of these least developed countries are located in Africa, with a few exceptions.

Criteria For Classifying Countries As Least Developed

Measuring development is almost always linked to both industrialization and standards of living. Since 1971, the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has used very specific criteria for classifying a country’s level of development. The three criteria include:

  • Poverty: A Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of $1,035 or less annually is an indicator of extreme poverty.
  • Human Resources: Public health indicators (such as those mentioned in the Human Development Index) are used to determine the strength/weakness of the human resources within a country.
  • Economic Vulnerability: An economic assessment considers export activity, agricultural production, damages caused by natural disasters, and economic size and instability to determine its vulnerability. A vulnerable economy is one indicator of a low level of development.

If a country experiences extreme poverty, weak human resources, and significant economic vulnerability, it will be labeled as least developed by the ECOSOC. The criteria are reviewed every three years to measure economic progress.

Other organizations, like the International Monetary Fund, have similar criteria for measuring economic development. The IMF considers per capita income, export diversification, and involvement in the global financial market as key development indicators.

The Least Developed Countries in the World

As previously mentioned, the majority of the world’s least developed countries are located in Africa. A few are also located in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Since the term “least developed country” was first used in 1971, only 4 countries have advanced to “developing country” status and many other nations have been added to the list.

Three countries, in particular, have declined being categorized as “least developed”: Ghana, Papua New Guinea, and Zimbabwe. This is because the governments here do not believe that the CDP is using accurate classification information.

The countries that have been on the “least developed” list since its implementation are: Afghanistan, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Yemen.

The newest additions to the "least developed countries" list include South Sudan (2012), Timor-Leste (2003), and Senegal (2000).

Approaches To Improve The Economy Of Least Developed Countries

A UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) is held every ten years. The most recent of these was held in 2011. During this conference, members set an objective to “graduate” 50% of the current LDC’s to a higher economic status by 2022.

To help LDC’s achieve economic development, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has created an Integrated Framework of Action for the Least Developed Countries. This framework considers offering specialized deals for LDC’s concerning trade and market access.

Some economists believe that development efforts should first be focused on improving a country’s Human Development Index rating. The idea behind this theory is that if human resources are strong, productivity levels will increase within LDC’s. Increased productivity would, in turn, foster an improved economy. Other experts believe that development efforts should begin by first investing in the job market and infrastructure growth. The idea with this theory is that these two factors would result in improved qualities of life. Other economists believe that countries should focus on export diversification to reduce the risk of economic crisis.

Countries on the UN Least Developed Countries List

RankCountryContinent
1AfghanistanAsia
2AngolaAfrica
3BangladeshAsia
4BhutanAsia
5Burkina FasoAfrica
6BurundiAfrica
7CambodiaAsia
8Central African RepublicAfrica
9ChadAfrica
10ComorosAfrica
11Democratic Republic of the CongoAfrica
12DjiboutiAfrica
13EritreaAfrica
14EthiopiaAfrica
15GambiaAfrica
16GuineaAfrica
17Guinea-BissauAfrica
18HaitiNorth America
19KiribatiOceania
20LaosAsia
21LesothoAfrica
22LiberiaAfrica
23MadagascarAfrica
24MalawiAfrica
25MaliAfrica
26MauritaniaAfrica
27MozambiqueAfrica
28MyanmarAsia
29NepalAsia
30NigerAfrica
31RwandaAfrica
32Sao Tome and PrincipeAfrica
33SenegalAfrica
34Sierra LeoneAfrica
35Solomon IslandsOceania
36SomaliaAfrica
37South SudanAfrica
38SudanAfrica
39Timor-LesteAsia
40TogoAfrica
41TuvaluOceania
42UgandaAfrica
43TanzaniaAfrica
44VanuatuOceania
45YemenAsia
46ZambiaArica

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