World's Poorest Countries Lag Developing World

A report released by the United Nations Children's Fund finds that the world's poorest countries slipped further behind other developing nations during the 1990s, keeping hundreds of millions of people — almost half of them children — mired in abject poverty.

Prepared for the Third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs), which ended on Sunday, the report, "Poverty and Children: Lessons of the 90s for Least Developed Countries," found that the well-being of children in the world's poorest countries was threatened by a range of conditions, including poor education, malnourishment, exposure to disease, and armed conflict, and that unless such conditions were addressed and reversed, LDCs would remain ensnared in a cycle of poverty and despair.

On a more positive note, the report highlighted development efforts in a number of countries, including Bangladesh, Malawi, and Uganda, as models of progress.

While noting that government action alone will not end the LDCs' struggle for survival, the report prescribes major investment in basic social services as essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. "Universal access to basic social services of good quality — especially education, health, and water and sanitation — gives governments a firm foundation for development," said UNICEF's executive director, Carol Bellamy. "As important, it ensures that the rights of their children are met."

UNICEF officials noted that such investment requires a reallocation of national budgets and increased investment from overseas, adding that LDC governments currently spend far more on defense and debt services than on basic social services.

To download a copy of the full report (427 KB, 32 pages, PDF), visit:

"World's poorest countries falling further behind developing world: UNICEF" United Nations Children's Fund Press Release 05/16/2001.