COVID-19 widened the chasm between Least Developed Countries and the rest – new UN report

Press Release

(New York, May 21)

COVID-19 pushed back development gains by years in the most vulnerable countries, further widening the gaps between them and the rest of the world in areas such as poverty reduction, education access and debt. That’s the stark analysis of a major new UN report that assesses the state of the Least Developed Countries after one of the most turbulent years in modern history.

The report, a comprehensive assessment of where the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) stand a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for a global coordinated response for LDCs that goes well beyond recovery, ensuring that the most vulnerable countries can both get their development back on track and better prepare for future disasters.

The perfect storm of COVID, climate change and debt has caused a sharp reduction in GDP growth and a rise in poverty, food and nutrition insecurity, and inequality. 

“COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis.  The pandemic has taken a toll on already fragile livelihoods with collapsed international trade and international tourism,” said Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, UN High Representative for the Least Developed States, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, whose office released the report.

"The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated inequalities within and between countries and it is expected that the effects of COVID-19 will jeopardize LDCs’ progress towards inclusive sustainable development for years to come,” she continued.

This report provides recommendations where such actions are most needed - from investment in people to sustainable structural transformation and the use of technologies to the mobilization of finance.

These recommendations go well beyond recovery from COVID-19, but their implementation would ensure that LDCs can also enhance resilience to future shocks and accelerate the achievement of their development goals.

COVID-19 in the LDCs

While COVID-19 cases seemed relatively low in LDCs at the beginning of the pandemic, they picked up in several countries towards the end of 2020. Currently, as many countries deal with a spike in cases, many fresh waves are taking place in countries with an already critical political, humanitarian or economic situation. 

The rate of extreme poverty in LDCs was about 35.1 per cent in 2018, before the pandemic struck. Early data on the impact of the pandemic on poverty show that figure growing, wiping out years of progress made in alleviating poverty. Due to their over-representation in the labour-intensive, low-skilled activities that were most affected by lockdowns, women were most severely affected.

The report notes that the urgent support needed by LDCs is significant, as the amounts they have been able to spend on damping down the pandemic have been significantly lower. Most LDCs have increased public spending but the size of these fiscal packages were much lower than in other developing countries and the developed world. In fact, LDCs managed to increase direct and indirect fiscal support by only 2.6 per cent of their GDP in 2020, compared to, on average, 15.8 per cent of developed countries’ much larger GDPs.

Response Measures

Central to the COVID-19 response is plugging the gaps that made it hard for LDCs to mount strong pandemic measures and ensuring that the most marginalised communities are supported with the basic infrastructure to stay engaged in production, education and healthcare.

Rural areas in particular need greater investment in services and financial instruments that target producers’ organisations like credit guarantee funds that can support investment plans and increase productivity.

COVID-19 saw millions of young people unable to access education, and while several LDCs have increased access to remote learning platforms, many more remain without electricity, internet or appropriate devices. These learning inequalities, widened by the pandemic, must also be tackled as a matter of urgency if this is not to become a lost generation.

Similarly, access to clean, affordable energy will be critical to supporting LDCs to grow production. Energy transition investment can help reinvigorate the economy, support the recovery phase, and create a wide range of jobs.


The report is published in advance of the first Preparatory Committee meeting of the Fifth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5). LDC5, to be held in Doha in January 2022, is where the international community will take stock of progress and challenges made in LDCs over the past decade and agree an ambitious new ten-year programme to accelerate development.

The Preparatory Committee meeting will bring together member states, and experts from civil society including youth, UN agencies, other multilateral agencies and stakeholders. It will offer an opportunity to assess the continued structural challenges and vulnerabilities faced by LDCs and design targeted and effective cooperative actions that can be deployed to assist these countries to accelerate sustainable recovery and development progress over the next decade.


- The world’s Least Developed Countries are in a race to deliver global development goals by 2030. This new decade needs to usher in a new global partnership to close the divide.  
The Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) will take place in Doha, Qatar, from 23 to 27 January 2022, at the level of Heads of State and Government. LDC5 is expected to adopt a new 10-year programme of action for the LDCs, at a critical time, falling within the last 10 years of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals across the LDCs. 

- The Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) is mandated to agree on elements of the new Programme of Action for the LDCs that will be finalised and adopted at LDC5 in Doha. The LDC5 PrepCom is led by two co-Chairs, Bangladesh and Canada.

- UN-OHRLLS mobilises international support for, and advocates in favour of, the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, raising awareness about their economic, social and environmental potential and ensuring that the pressing needs of the 1.1 billion people who live in them, remain high on the international agenda. 

- The State of the Least Developed Countries 2021 report is at: 

Media Contact
Mr. Conor O’Loughlin, Head of Advocacy and Outreach, UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States: