5 things you need to know about the world’s least developed countries

In International
March 06, 2023

Three years after the world began to shut down as COVID-19 took hold, the UN and other partners will gather in Doha, Qatar, to deliver a historic new compact to support the countries whose vulnerabilities the pandemic most exposed.

The conference of Least Developed Countries or LDCs takes place every 10 years and this year’s meeting from 5 to 9 March 2023, known as LDC5, will focus on returning the needs of the 46 designated countries to the top of the global agenda and supporting them as they strive to get back on track to sustainable development.

Bikenibeu village in South Tarawa, Kiribati.

1. What is a Least Developed Country?

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are countries listed by the United Nations that exhibit the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development across a range of indexes. All LDCs have a gross national per capita income (GNI) of below USD$1,018; compare that to almost $71,000 in the United States, $44,000 in France, $9,900 in Turkey and $6,530 in South Africa according to data from World Bank.

Indicators of nutrition, health, enrollment in schools, and literacy are similarly low in these nations, but indicators of economic and environmental vulnerability—which takes into account things like isolation, reliance on agriculture, and sensitivity to natural disasters—are high.

There are currently 46 LDCs, the vast majority of which are in Africa [see box below]. The list is reviewed every three years by the UN Economic and Social Council. Six countries graduated from LDC status between 1994 and 2020.

2. What are the challenges facing the least developed countries?

Today, the 46 LDCs are home to some 1.1 billion people, that’s 14 percent of the world’s population, and more than 75 percent of those people still live in poverty.

More than other countries, LDCs are at risk of deepening poverty and remaining in a situation of underdevelopment. They are also vulnerable to external economic shocks, natural and man-made disasters, communicable diseases, and crucially climate change.

Currently, the planet is on course to warm by about 2.7°C this century, which would devastate LDCs. These countries have contributed the least to carbon emissions, and yet face some of the highest risks from climate change.

Meanwhile, LDCs are among those most affected by COVID-19; all but eight experienced negative growth rates in 2020 and the pandemic fall-out is predicted to last longer than in richer countries.

Debt is a major problem for all LDCs: four are classified as in debt distress (Mozambique, Sao Tome, Principe, Somalia, and Sudan) and 16 LDCs are at high risk of debt distress.

As such, LDCs require the highest level of attention from the international community.

A 5-month-old girl at Paktia Regional Hospital in Gardez, Afghanistan, receives therapeutic milk to treat malnutrition.

3. How can the United Nations and the international community help LDCs?

The UN system’s efforts to reverse the increasing marginalization of LDCs in the global economy and to put them on a path to sustainable growth and development date back to the 1960s.

Since then, the UN has paid special attention to LDCs, recognizing them as the most vulnerable in the international community and granting them certain benefits including:

  • Development financing: notably grants and loans from donors and financial institutions.
  • Multilateral trading system: such as preferential market access and special treatments.
  • Technical assistance: notably, towards supporting trade.

The first LDC conference was held in Paris, France in 1981, and LDC5, marking the 50th anniversary was due to be held in March 2022 but was postponed to this year due to COVID.

A child holds a pan of locusts at a camp for internally displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4. What is the Doha Programme of Action?

The Doha Programme of Action (or DPoA, for acronym lovers!) is the development roadmap for LDCs agreed upon in March 2022.

It includes six key focus areas:

  1. Eradicating poverty and building capacity.
  2. Leveraging the power of science, technology, and innovation to fight vulnerabilities and achieve the SDGs.
  3. Supporting structural transformation as a driver of prosperity.
  4. Enhancing international trade of LDCs and regional integration.
  5. Addressing climate change, and environmental degradation, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and building resilience against future shocks.
  6. Mobilizing international solidarity and reinvigorating global partnerships.

The full implementation of the DPoA will help LDCs to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting negative socio-economic impacts and enable them to get back on track to achieve the SDGs including addressing climate change. You can find the complete text of and documents of DOHA here in the 6 UN official languages.

Haiti is the only country in the Americas which is designated as an LDC.

5. What should we anticipate from LDC5?

For the purpose of achieving the SDGs, the UN, LDCs, heads of state and government, development partners, the corporate sector, civil society, lawmakers, and youth will join together to form partnerships, make promises, introduce innovations, and establish strategies.

The UN Secretary-General, who will speak at the meeting, has previously emphasised the value of aiding LDCs.
“The Doha Plan of Action serves as a reminder that for the world to recover, LDCs must receive the assistance they require. To properly achieve Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, they require strong investments in the health, education, and social protection sectors.”

LDCs will achieve specific benchmarks that will allow them to graduate from the programme as they take the first step towards their objectives.

Botswana (1994), Cape Verde (2007), the Maldives (2011), Samoa (2014), Equatorial Guinea (2017), and Vanuatu are the six nations that have through this procedure (2020).

List of Least Developed Countries:

The following 46 countries were listed as LDCs by the UN as of March 2023:

  • Africa (33): Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia
  • Asia (9): Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Timor-Leste and Yemen
  • Caribbean (1): Haiti
  • Pacific (3): Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Tuval



  1. #Poverty
  2. #Low-income countries
  3. #Economic challenges
  4. #Vulnerability
  5. #Underdevelopment
  6. #Humanitarian crisis
  7. #Aid dependency
  8. #Limited infrastructure
  9. #Weak institutions
  10. #High population growth
  11. #Health and education disparities
  12. #Natural disasters
  13. #Conflict and political instability
  14. #Food insecurity
  15. #Rural population.