In its annual report on the world's least developed countries, or LDCs, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said that booming economic growth in the 48 nations on its list was having only minor impacts on living standards and the fight against widespread poverty.
"The LDC paradox arises from the failure of LDC economies to achieve structural changes despite having grown vigorously as a result of strong export prices and rising aid flows", UNCTAD said.
The 48 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, had jointly seen their economies grow 5.6 percent in 2013 -- far above the 1.2-percent growth seen in developed countries.
Yet nearly half of the population in LDCs continue to live in extreme poverty, almost 30 percent of people are undernourished and few are in secure employment, the UNCTAD report said.
Nearly one third of people in these countries have no access to a clean water source and almost two thirds have no access to sanitation facilities, it said, also pointing out that one in 12 children there die before they turn five.
One problem, the report said, was that many LDCs, especially the ones in Africa, are not investing enough in areas that generate secure employment, like manufacturing, technology and modernising the agriculture sector.
In fact, the value produced annually by the average worker in the LDCs corresponds to just two percent of the value generated by their equivalent in developed countries, the report found.
All LDCs are not equal though. Asian LDCs like Bangladesh and Cambodia, whose economies are dominated by manufacturing, had seen labour productivity swell 3.2 percent annually since the early 1990s, the report found.
That is double the pace of African LDCs, whose economies are more dominated by oil, gas and metal mining, it said.
Of the 48 countries on the LDC list, only one, Laos, appeared to be on track to achieve all seven Millenium Development Goals, which among other things called for halving poverty and extreme hunger by 2015.
On average, the LDCs had reduced the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day from 65 percent of their populations in 1990 to 45 percent in 2010.
Asian LDCs did a better job, cutting the rate from 64 to 34 percent over the 20-year-period, compared to African LDCs and Haiti, which only saw a drop from 65 to 51 percent.
While it is positive that some progress is being made, UNCTAD warned the slow advances seen so far in most LDC countries made the achievement of the likely and far more ambitious post-2015 goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 difficult to envision.
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