Commission for Social Development
Acting as Preparatory Committee for
Second World Assembly on Ageing
5th Meeting (PM)
PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR AGEING ASSEMBLY ENDS SESSION
WITHOUT ACHIEVING DESIRED RESULTS
Following extensive consultations Friday evening, the Commission for Social Development, acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing, suspended its first session without resolving the organizational matters before it. It decided to resume its session on 30 April – 1 May and again in November to complete its work.
Marking the twentieth anniversary of the First World Assembly on Ageing, the Second Assembly will be held in Madrid, Spain, in April 2002. It will be devoted to an overall assessment and review of the outcome of that event, and to elaborate a renewed long-term strategy on ageing in the context of significant demographic changes in the world.
The Preparatory Committee, which began on 26 February, commenced work on a revised draft action plan to provide an updated framework to address the dramatic force of population ageing and its impact on development and institutions, particularly in the developing world. During substantive discussions, delegates addressed the structure of the outcome document and issues of particular importance to individual countries and groups of States.
The Committee was unable to agree on the organizational objectives of the session, namely, the accreditation and participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the Assembly and its preparatory process, and the rules of procedure and format for the event.
“We have failed”, Committee Chairman Felipe Paolillo (Uruguay) said, expressing his frustration at “meagre” results. That was regrettable, he explained, because the Committee had worked with good will. What had probably been missing was a necessary dose of flexibility and creativity. As a result, the Committee had not even been able to elect the Bureau or adopt any procedural provisions. He expressed his hope that an atmosphere more conducive to reaching agreement would prevail at the resumed session.
The Committee did approve a decision, however, to request the Secretary-General to submit to its second session in 2002 a report on abuse against older persons (document E/CN.5/2001/PC/L.4). The draft decision, which was approved as orally amended, would have the report prepared on the basis of existing studies, information and documentation. The decision stated the report would contribute to the elaboration of a revised action plan.
Introducing the amended text, the representative of the Dominican Republic named the following additional co-sponsors: Ecuador, Cuba, Japan, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Luxembourg, Iceland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark and Italy. (For the original list of co-sponsors, see Press Release SOC/4573 of 1 March.)
Prior to its approval, the Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, John Langmore, said his Division would be able to commission the study within its resources, but as those were quite limited, he appealed for additional contributions to the Trust Fund on Ageing.
The Committee also approved its report on the first part of its first session (document E/CN.5/2001/PC/L.3), as well as a draft provisional agenda for its second preparatory session (document E/CN.5/2001/PC/L.5).
The facilitator of informal consultations, Virginia Bras Gomes (Portugal), reported on Committee members’ inability to reach agreement on procedural issues relating to the Assembly.
The following representatives spoke on procedural matters: Sudan, Algeria, Sweden, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russian Federation, Cuba, Guyana (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), India, China, Brazil, Benin, Bolivia, Madagascar and Italy.
Committee Secretary Kate Starr Newell responded to delegates’ questions.
Highlights of Session
Growing concern over the intensifying speed and scale of global ageing was evident during the session's general discussion, as speakers drew attention to the demographic, social and economic changes that had occurred since the adoption of the 1982 Action Plan and highlighted ways in which those changes had affected their countries. Owing to a combination of increased life expectancy and low fertility rates, some 20 years has been added to the average lifespan, bringing global life expectancy to 66 years.
Currently, according to documentation before the Committee, one out of every 10 persons is 60 years or older. By 2050, one out of five persons will be 60 years or older. Some 55 per cent of older persons are women, and approximately 51 per cent of older persons live in urban areas. The rapid increase in the number of older people in the world represents a challenge to the institutional frameworks and capacity of many governments to sustain development and ensure the well-being of their population.
For their discussion, members had before them a report of the Secretary-General in which he describes the 1982 Action Plan as a remarkable accomplishment of broad scope, but one which focuses primarily on the needs and circumstances of the developed world as the then site of the most visible demographic change. Two decades later, the extraordinary growth in the global older population and its acceleration in developing countries required an updated action plan that reflected the perspectives of ageing in developing societies.
Speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, the representative of Iran urged that the theme of the Assembly's outcome document should be "The Achievement of Secure Ageing -- Equality, Participation and Dignity". The text must fully reflect the challenges of developing countries in the context of their social, economic and developmental situation. Securing resources for development and the continuing contribution of older people to society should also be emphasized, he said
During the debate, the representative of Thailand said that, unlike countries in the developed world, Thailand would grow old before it got rich, as economic development had not kept pace with the rapid ageing of the population. Further, the migration of young people to the cities in search of jobs, decreases in the average size of families, and increases in the number of women entering the work force meant that fewer people were available to care for older persons. Poverty, shrinking resources, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction and an overall lack of productivity compounded the problem.
Speaking for the European Union, the representative of Sweden acknowledged the changing demographic patterns in many developing countries, with older persons increasingly the poorest in society and in danger of exclusion. It could no longer be assumed that the extended family would support the elderly. The Second World Assembly would be an opportunity to consider new realities. Despite remarkable shifts in age structures and economic, social and cultural changes, the core challenges remained how to create a society for all ages, and how to promote inclusion and equal opportunities for all.
The United States' representative suggested the slogan: adding life to years and not just years to life. Developed countries, he said, must address the challenges of societies that were already old. Developing countries must find ways of meeting their special circumstances. The draft revised action plan not only reflected recent complex and myriad changes, but showed a sensitivity to development issues, she said.
Urging that ageing must cease to be an “add-on” issue, the Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, John Langmore, said that ageing should be seen as part of a restructuring of social, economic, and cultural landscapes. Together with globalization, population ageing was shaping the future. The world had always drawn wisdom from the experience of those who had lived the longest, but the demands of social and economic change had strained that perspective. Now, a way must be found to reveal the potentials of longer lives and use those vast potentials.
Representatives of several networks of civil society groups concerned with issues of ageing also addressed the Committee. One urged members not to "catalogue and park" people according to their age. Another said the challenge was to integrate ageing into the wider development agenda and to ensure that the updated action plan was linked firmly to that agenda. New policy frameworks must define older people as a resource and recognize their substantial and often undervalued contributions to families and societies worldwide, they stressed.
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