A Least developed country (LDC) is a country which, according to the United Nations, exhibits the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world. The concept of LDCs originated in the late 1960s and the first group of LDCs was listed by the UN in its resolution 2768 (XXVI) of 18 November 1971. A country is classified as a Least Developed Country if it meets three criteria:
- Poverty (three-year average GNI per capita of less than US $905, which must exceed $1,086 to leave the list)
- Human resource weakness (based on indicators of nutrition, health, education and adult literacy) and
- economic vulnerability (based on instability of agricultural production, instability of exports of goods and services, economic importance of non-traditional activities, merchandise export concentration, handicap of economic smallness, and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters)
LDC criteria are reviewed every three years by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Countries may "graduate" out of the LDC classification when indicators exceed these criteria. The United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) coordinates UN support and provides advocacy services for Least Developed Countries. The classification (as of 1 January 2011)) applies to 48 countries.
Since the LDC category was initiated, only three countries have graduated to developing country status. The first country to graduate from LDC status was Botswana in 1994. The second country was Cape Verde, in 2007. Maldives became the third country to graduate to developing country status on 1 January 2011. In 2011 the UN suggested that Equatorial Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are among the candidates for promotion from LDC status. At the UN's fourth conference on LDCs held in May 2011, delegates endorsed a goal targeting the promotion of at least half the current LDC countries within the next ten years.
Usage and abbreviations
Least developed countries can be distinguished from developing countries, "less developed countries", "lesser developed countries", or other terms for countries in the so-called "Third World". Although many contemporary scholars argue that "Third World" is outdated, irrelevant or inaccurate, others may use the term "Fourth World" in reference to least developed countries (although Fourth World is also used to refer to stateless ethnic groups). The term "less economically developed country" (LEDC) is also used today.
However, in order to avoid confusion between "least developed country" and or LEDC "less economically developed country" (which may both be abbreviated as LDC), and to avoid confusion with landlocked developing country (which can be abbreviated as LLDC), "developing country" is generally used in preference to "less developed country". Least developed countries suffer conditions of extreme poverty, ongoing and widespread conflict (including civil war or ethnic clashes), extensive political corruption, and lack political and social stability. The form of government in such countries is often authoritarian in nature, and may comprise a dictatorship, warlordism, or a kleptocracy. AIDS is a major issue in many of these countries. The majority of LDCs are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Note, however, that the above characteristics generally do not apply to LDCs located in Oceania. Kiribati, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are politically stable democracies, and lack any form of civil or ethnic strife. Nor are they strongly affected by AIDS. Although they have small economies, often dependent on monocultures, the population generally does not suffer from extreme poverty, thanks to an enduring subsistence sector in the economy. The Solomon Islands is the only Oceanian LDC currently affected by political instability and ethnic tension. In 2006, the United Nations recommended that Samoa be graduated from LDC status. The Samoan government disagreed, however in 2007 the UN Economic and Social Council endorsed the recommendation, setting Samoa's graduation date for 31 December 2010. Following the tsunami that hit Samoa in 2009, Samoa's graduation was deferred until January 2014.
During the last United Nations review in 2009, the UN defined LDCs as countries meeting three criteria, one of which was a three-year average estimate of gross national income (GNI) per capita of less than US $905. Countries with populations over 75 million are excluded.
UN conferences on the least developed countries
The first conference - in Paris, 1981. The second conference - in Paris, 1991. The third conference - in Brussels, 2001. There have been four United Nations conferences on LDCs, the most recent being held 9–13 May 2011 in Istanbul.
Fourth UN Conference on LDCs (UN LDC-IV)
The Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) was held in Istanbul, Turkey, 9–13 May 2011. It was attended by Ban Ki-Moon, the head of the UN, and close to 50 prime ministers and heads of state. The conference endorsed the goal of raising half the existing Least developed countries out of the LDC category by 2022. As with the Seoul Development Consensus drawn up in 2010, there was a strong emphases on boosting productive capability and physical infrastructure, with several NGO's not pleased with the emphases placed on the private sector. 
Role of civil society
In the process of increasing awareness towards the needs of the LDCs, the importance of the inputs and contributions of the members of the Civil Society were first acknowledged during the NGO Forum held in parallel to the third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries in Brussels in 2001. The importance of civil society and its contributions has also been recognised in the UNGA Resolution 63/227. Post LDC III, civil society actors have been actively engaged and involved in the UN Decision making processes concerning LDCs. They have also been involved in the implementation and follow-up, monitoring and review of the progress made by LDCs and the success of the implementation of the BPoA. For LDC IV, the UN-OHRLLS has entrusted LDC Watch, a global network of LDC Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), with taking the lead in coordinating the civil society track.
LDC Watch has organised civil society consultations at various levels. At the regional level, in partnership with the UN-OHRLLS and relevant UN agencies, the following three consultations have been organised:
- Africa LDC Civil Society Assembly on 4–5 March 2010, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in the lead-up to the official regional review in Africa
- Pacific LDC Civil Society Assembly on 3–6 August 2010, Port Vila (Vanuatu) in parallel to the forty-first official Pacific Islands Forum
- Asia LDC Civil Society Assembly on 22–23 November 2010, Bangkok (Thailand)
These consultations were organised to critically assess the progress made by LDCs in the ten years since the adoption of the Brussels Programme of Action and with the intention of influencing the outcome of LDC IV.
As the LDC Governments and their development partners prepare to gather together for UNLDC IV, members of Civil Society are also preparing to meet during the Civil Society Forum  which is going to be held in parallel to the official conference. UN-OHRLLS has mandated LDC Watch as the lead Civil Society Organization to coordinate the Civil Society track towards the LDC-IV conference. The Forum will open two days before the official conference begins and will continue till the end of the conference. It will bring together NGOs from all the LDCs, as well as representatives from the civil society at all levels including women’s movements, youth movements, trade unions, peasant federations, media personnel and human rights defenders.
Trade and LDCs
Issues surrounding global trade regulations and LDCs have gained a lot of media and policy attention thanks to the recently collapsed Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations being termed a development round. During the WTO's Hong Kong Ministerial, it was agreed that LDCs could see 100 percent duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets if the round were completed. But analysis of the deal by NGOs found that the text of the proposed LDC deal had substantial loopholes that might make the offer less than the full 100 percent access, and could even erase some current duty-free access of LDCs to rich country markets. Dissatisfaction with these loopholes led some economists to call for a reworking of the Hong Kong deal.
Dr. Chiedu Osakwe, as of 2001 the Director, Technical Cooperation Division at the Secretariat of the WTO, and adviser to the Director-General on developing country matters, was appointed as the WTO Special Coordinator for the Least Developed Countries beginning in 1999. He worked closely with the five other agencies that together with the WTO constitute the Integrated Framework of action for the Least Developed Countries. They addressed issues of market access, special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries, participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system, and development questions, especially the interests of developing countries in competition policy.
Africa (34 countries)
Asia-Pacific (14 countries)
- East Timor
- Solomon Islands
Americas (1 country)
- Sikkim (Became a state within the Republic of India in 1975) 
- Botswana (Graduated from LDC status in 1994)
- Cape Verde (Graduated in 2007)
- Maldives (Graduated in 2011) 
- Development geography
- Development economics
- Economic development
- Group of 77
- Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
- List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita
- More developed country (MDC), opposite of LDCs
- Third world
- UN-OHRLLS The Criteria for the identification of the LDCs.
- π http://www.unohrlls.org/en/ldc/related/59/)
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- UNCTAD - LDCs
- "Goal to halve number of LDCs in next 10 years". The Guardian. 2011-05-06. Retrieved 2011-05-13.
- LDCs Default Page
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- Public Citizen | Global Trade Watch | Global Trade Watch - Hot Issue June 21 - Study shows WTO’s Doha Round proposal would leave many poor countries worse off
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- Osakwe, Chiedu, "Are WTO Members wrestling an octopus, did they set their sights too high?", DAC News November–December 2005, Development Assistance Committee, OECD.
- Also a landlocked developing country
- Also a Small Island Developing State
- Country profiles, Least Developed Countries, UN-OHRLLS. Accessed on line April 16, 2008.
- UN Handbook on the LDC Category
- "About Sikkim" from the Government of Sikkim's website
- Delegates in Preparatory Meeting Express Concern about Shortage of Countries 'Graduating' from Least-Developed Status over Last Decade
- Istanbul forum offers chance to recommit to helping world’s poorest nations
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- World Trade Organisation, ""WTO Launches Trade Initiative for Least Developed Countries", FOCUS newsletter, WTO, Geneva, Switzerland, November 1997 issue 24.
- Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, United Nations
- United Nations List of LDCs
- Fourth UN Conference on the LDCs
- UNCTAD Least Developed Countries Report 2012
- "Why and how LDCs can receive more FDI to meet their development goals", Ken Davies, Columbia FDI Perspectives No. 40, June 20, 2011.
- "Being least developed", T.K. Jarayaman, Fiji Times, 3 February 2009
- UN LDC-IV Civil Society Forum