16 December 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Upcoming International Human Solidarity Day

 


Solidarity — in particular between generations — was a critical element of global economic and social welfare, said participants at a Headquarters press conference today.


The briefing was hosted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) ahead of the fifth International Human Solidarity Day, observed annually on 20 December.  Speaking were Permanent Representative of Tunisia Ghazi Jomaa, Chair of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Committee on Ageing Jessica Frank, and Sara Reef, Director of Cross Cultural Initiatives at the NGO Intersections International.  Moderating the discussion was Donald Lee, Chief of the Social Perspective on Development Branch at DESA.


The theme of Human Solidarity Day 2010, “Intergenerational Solidarity”, was particularly pertinent falling as it did during the United Nations International Year of Youth, said Mr. Lee as he opened the discussion.


While much attention had been given at the international level to establishing dialogue with young people, said Ms. Frank, achieving human solidarity also meant addressing the needs of the rapidly growing number of older persons worldwide.  People were living longer and healthier lives than ever before, she said.  It was estimated that by 2040, there would be more elderly people on the planet than children for the first time, and their needs affected all of society.


“Poverty affects whole households and is transmitted across generations,” she said, adding that “old age can be a period of extreme vulnerability to poverty and ill health and social exclusion.”  Less than 20 per cent of older people across the world were covered by a pension, which meant that more than 600 million older adults lacked any income security.


She cited research indicating that pensions and social programmes for older people also helped children and others living within the same household.  “Pensions and social security systems are perfect examples of intergenerational solidarity,” said Ms. Frank.


Turning to the Millennium Development Goals, she added that the United Nations NGO Committee on Ageing was concerned about the “continued exclusion” of older men and women in the Goals.  “Older people are still not explicitly mentioned in any of the MDG targets or indicators,” she said, noting a critical lack of understanding of the contribution that older people made to development.  “As we work towards tackling poverty, all generations really need to be considered,” she said, stressing the need to create and implement policies that “help generations to help each other”.


“Solidarity is a concept that should be emphasized globally,” agreed Ambassador Jomaa, noting nonetheless that, as a world community, “the major task of putting our words into action still largely lies ahead of us”.


He noted that the ideas of solidarity and social cohesion were well-established in Tunisia.  Solidarity was described in ancient texts as “the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motive force of history”, he said, adding that the concept still played a prominent role in Tunisian society today.


Among innovative national activities in support of human solidarity, he drew attention to the creation of a Tunisian Government fund — known as the “26-26 National Solidarity Fund” — which provided vulnerable people with support for improved living conditions, productive economic activities and stronger income sources.  Launched in 1982, the Fund was based on the correlation between social development and economic progress.  Today, it had more than 5 million donors and had helped to decrease Tunisia’s overall poverty rate to about 3.8 per cent — a rate much lower than that of most other developing countries.


“The Fund’s actions have helped improve important social and economic indicators,” he said, adding that it had reduced the rate of sub-standard housing, enhanced projects to bring drinking water to rural areas of Tunisia, and, through those and other programmes, had helped to stabilize the country politically.


Many countries had shown interest in the success of Tunisia’s solidarity fund, and had issued grants to support it, he said.  Based on his country’s example, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Djibouti had set up similar funds, and other developing countries were exploring the concept.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had also taken the Fund as a model for comprehensive social development in various contexts.


Additionally, he said, the United Nations had decided in 2002 to establish a World Solidarity Fund, which — while still lacking the resources to become operational — showed international support for the concept of comprehensive social programming for development.


Offering a non-governmental perspective on the issue of solidarity was Ms. Reef, whose organization facilitated intergenerational and cross-cultural social projects.  Among those, she said, was the “Theatre, Engagement and Action” project, which focused on “being Muslim and non-Muslim” in New York “post-9/11”.  The project had received a United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Youth Solidarity Fund Grant in 2010.  Ms. Reef recalled interactions between youth and older people, often of different races and cultures, which she had witnessed during her work with the project.  Such dialogue made it possible for adults and children to put themselves in someone else’s shoes — a critical foundation for intergenerational solidarity, she said.


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For information media • not an official record