Land-Locked Developing Countries – Minimizing Vulnerability, Maximizing Integration

2 Jun

Editor’s note:  The following is from Benjamin Shulman who is serving this summer in a joint position with GAPW and our partner Green Map System.   Benji is from South Africa, is a geographer by training, and has deep interests in the Middle East and in security-climate relationships.  Here, Benji looks at the unique economic and related challenges faced by Land-Locked Developing Countries, an important dimension of our security and media work. 

The Kingdom of Lesotho has two unusual geographic traits among the family of nations. Firstly it has the world’s highest ‘low point,’ which is to say that its lowest point (which in most nations is the sea) is quite high up in the Maloti mountain range which makes up the bulk of its territory. The second is that Lesotho is the world’s only country that is surrounded entirely by one other country (South Africa) with no access to the sea.

These two rather unusual characteristics are outliers but they illustrate the geographic realities faced not just by Lesotho but by a whole range of other states known Land Locked Developing Countries (LLDC’s).  This category of states was the focus of a session recently at the United Nations with key players in attendance including diplomats from interested and affected countries, as well as presenters from the UN-OHRLLS, UNCTAD, the World Bank and UN-DESA. The discussion was held with one eye on the upcoming second UN conference on LLDC’s which is scheduled for November 2014 in in Vienna, Austria.

As the session made clear, LLDCs have all the markers characteristic of a developing country but have the defining feature of also not having access to the sea. This factor poses additional constraints to their development. Issues such as isolation, regional integration challenges and production and marketing limitations are particularly pertinent to this group of countries.   These factors can easily lead to more fragile economies that are especially vulnerable to external shock factors such as price fluctuation and global financial instability.

Although LLDC’s form a band of often economically small and vulnerable states this does not mean that they have no impact on global stability.  Take for example in 1998 when the South African Development Community (SADC) intervened to quell unrest in Lesotho resulting in loss of life and considerable damage. Economic vulnerability along with other social and historic factors indicates that these states have sometimes significant potential to cause instability well beyond their land-locked borders.

The UN discussion on LLDC’s was heavily tilted towards two subjects, namely the threat of external “shocks” that may affect these countries and the potential for developing reliable information systems that could be useful in increasing resilience to such shocks. On the other hand, there was very little attempt to integrate cultural assessments, human resource development or any direct security concerns. On the issue of trade, one of the more problematic issues was how to integrate LLDCs into the regional and global economy. By their nature LDCC’s are reliant on their neighbours to transport incoming goods and services. On the one hand this means having to maintain carefully cultivated diplomatic ties with nearby states while simultaneously having to grapple with possible exposure to any instability in the internal political dynamics of their neighbors. This is compounded by the number of states bordering LLDC’s which is on average nearly double those of other countries. This complex regional geo-political situation has meant that these states have often found it challenging to find politically and logistically smooth pathways into the international economy. Even if they are able to achieve integration there is the additional risk that negative external shocks coming from the international system may significantly dampen the benefits of increased trade and economic growth.  This is especially true when you consider that many LLDC’s are single commodity exporters for which fluctuating prices are a considerable worry.

There was also much talk at the UN meeting of creating a “vulnerability index” for LLDCs which could be used both as early warning system and as a policy analysis tool.  The idea however is still in its infancy and there are a number of problems that an academic project of this kind might confront. Trying to figure out what metrics and measurements should be used, deciding how they could be made consistent across all country contexts, and proper sourcing of potential data sets are just some of the key stumbling blocks that still need to be resolved.

During the interactive portion of the session, there were some pertinent remarks made by diplomats representing LLDCs. They pointed out that many of the problems associated with this group of states are also mirrored in the Small Island Developing states and should thus be addressed in concert. In addition there were some complaints that there is no real incentive for states to move from their present “developing” designation as this comes with aid benefits and other assistance which is lost once a state “graduates” to another status. It was suggested during the discussions that these ‘graduating’ states might continue to receive specific technical assistance suited to their context similar to what is already provided to developing countries more broadly. This would provide inexpensive and effective interventions that could contribute to lowering the risks that these countries face as they seek economic integration and transition to more developed stages.

 Benjamin Shulman, GAPW


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