Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are defined as low-income countries suffering from the most severe structural impediments to sustainable development.
The category of the LDCs was established in 1971 as a special group of developing countries characterized by a low income level and structural impediments to growth, and requiring special measures for dealing with those problems. The Committee for Development Planning, now Committee for Development Policy (CDP) of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) proposed an initial list of 25 LDCs based on a simple set of criteria (per capita gross domestic product - GDP), share of manufacturing in GDP and adult literacy). Since then, the eligibility criteria for LDCs has been further refined to include the following: gross national income (GNI) per capita; the human assets index (HAI); the economic vulnerability index (EVI).
Since the establishment of the category of the LDCs, CDP has been responsible for undertaking a review of the list every three years, on the basis of which it advises the ECOSOC regarding countries which should be added to or those that could be graduated from the list.
The Istanbul Plan of Action sets the target of enabling half of the LDCs to meet the criteria for graduation by 2020. Some countries are expected to start graduation process over the next 3 years and some include graduation as a strategic objective in their National Development Plans (ex. Cambodia, Laos and Bangladesh). However, LDCs are facing several challenges due to the economic downturn and experiencing economic weakening.
In this context, UNCDF works with key actors in the UN system focusing on LDCs (CDP, UNCTAD, ECOSOC, OHRLLS), to support to bring more LDCs to graduation and thus help meet the objectives set by the Istanbul Plan of Action.