Lifting the floor


Photo: Rodney Dekker/Oxfam Aus

Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, joined world leaders at the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference seeks to address the problems hindering Read Barry Coates blog from Istanbulthe development of the world’s poorest 48 countries. In the text below Barry has outlined what the conference needs to address and questions why a billion people go hungry and he has also written a blog post from the conference and a final report about the outcomes.

Why are people hungry?

The world's poorest 48 nations
The world's 48 poorest nations are predominantly in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

It’s been a bad year for the 44 million people in poor countries who slipped into hunger since the surge of food prices in June 2010. That’s 4 million every single month – nearly the population of New Zealand. The tragedy is that there is enough to feed every human being on earth – yet we have almost a billion people who are chronically hungry, and an equal number who are obese.

Hunger is the result of injustice, not of a global food shortage.

People are hungry for a number of reasons:

  • Their land has been stolen and their water allocated to others.
  • Local farmers cannot compete with subsidised imports from rich nations.
  • Women are denied credit and education.
  • Developing country governments and donors alike have not invested in small farmers.
  • Climate change has created unstable weather conditions leading to crop failure.
  • Food prices: In the past year the price of crops including maize, wheat and sugar have all increased by more than 70 per cent. For people who spend over half their income on food, this is a disaster.


This conference is an opportunity to start dealing with systemic problems in the world’s food system.

Together, world leaders will map out an action plan for the coming decade. The aim is not only to ensure the world’s poorest people have enough to eat, but also access to water, jobs, education, basic healthcare and other essential human rights.

It’s a big challenge

In 1971, the UN identified 24 LDCs. Four decades later, the rich countries have become far richer and the number of countries branded “least developed” has doubled. As a good neighbour, proud of our Pacific identity, we should be determined to ensure that Pacific nations especially move out of the LDC category during the next decade.

Overcoming poverty

This is the key question facing the conference. It is crucial that these countries – with populations heavily weighted towards young people – create jobs and economic opportunities. Even though the LDCs are home to 10 per cent of the world’s population, they account for only 1 per cent of global exports.

Where economic growth has happened in poor countries, it has often come from digging up minerals and oil, felling old growth forests and plundering fish stocks, which is neither sustainable nor equitable. The rush for exploitation of resources has fuelled corruption, exacerbated conflicts and done little to benefit poor and disadvantaged people.

There is enough to feed every person on earth – hunger is an injustice, not the result of a global food shortage.


The international community has a role to play. It's a scandal that rich countries still subsidise their agriculture and displace impoverished producers of crops like cotton. This week’s conference could reform trade rules to discriminate in favour of LDCs, instead of rigging the rules against them.

The LDC conference could also send a strong signal that the world’s poorest people will be devastated by the impacts of climate change if there is not a fair, ambitious and binding agreement soon.

Lasting change

To alleviate hunger requires a willingness from rich nations to remove the blocks to progress and provide real assistance. With vision and courage, leaders meeting in Istanbul could mark a turning point. We live in a world of stark inequality. Do we want to reach down to those who have been marginalised, or continue trampling on them? It’s time to lift the floor.

Live from Istanbul

  • Watch the live proceedings from the conference, including the Civil Society Forum, with this webcast.

Further information