UNITED NATIONS POPULATION INFORMATION NETWORK (POPIN)
UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

94-09-09: Statement of St.Vincent & the Grenadines, H.E.Mr.Monty Roberts

ISO: VCT

 

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The electronic preparation of this document has been done by the

Population Information Network(POPIN) of the United Nations Population

Division in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme

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 AS WRITTEN



     INTRODUCTION



     St. Vincent and the Grenadines like many of its Caribbean

neighbours is subject to a range of peculiar characteristics which

necessitate the delicate balancing of the population and  development

variables in order to ensure the survival of this small  island

developing state.



     Specific reference is made to:



     the small size and open dependent economy;  the susceptibility to

external changes;



     The effects of migration on the island's demographic structure

and its significance for sustainable development; and



     The single export crop (bananas) on which this agricultural  based

economy is dependent and the indiscernible future which  this crop faces

on the international market.



     Together, though not exclusively, these characteristics create a

high degree of vulnerability in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines'

economy; a situation clearly illuminated by the 5.5% economic  growth

averaged during the five (5) year period 1987 - 1991,  followed

immediately by the current decline which this state has  been

experiencing over the past three (3) years (1992 - 1994).



     St. Vincent and the Grenadines' increasing Per Capita Income

resulting from the 87 - 91 growth period, catapulted this island state

into a middle income developing country, a status which potentially bars

access to concessional funds from lending agencies. However the effects

of the banana shock which the country has encountered over the past two

(2) years have impacted negatively on the living standards of the

population.



     Critical Population Issues



     Despite the achievements over the past decade with a declining

birth rate contributing to a 1980 - 1991 intercensal average growth rate

of 0.8% per annum, the population is still structurally young. The under

15 dependent group accounts for 37.2% (39,626) of the total population

with a dependency ratio of 77:100. The states' responsibility to this

group requires the provision of school places, health care service and

recreational facilities. It is well understood that investment in these

areas is critical for sustainability, but because per capita cost of

investment is high in these very areas and resources are limited,

progress is moderate.



     The most significant group in the population is the 15 - 44's,

accounting for 45.6% (48,580) of the total. The demands of this group

are for jobs and housing. Applying the international definition of

employment to this developing state, the 1991 Census report indicates an

unemployment rate of 19.8% (8,238 from a total labour force of 41,682)

with those in the 15 - 29 age range being most severely affected.



     No developing state can be complacent about this level of

unemployment among its young people because of the numerous social ills

associated with this.



     The 45 - 65 group accounts for 10.7% (11,360) of the total

population and here the demand for health care begins to increase after

having been kept relatively low between 15 - 44 years.



     The 6.5% (6,916) in the 65+ group may appear insignificant when

compared with some of the other islands but their demand for geriatric

care is now beginning to make itself felt.



     It is Government's responsibility to provide the needs of each

group and it is the limitation on the resources for providing these

needs with which Planners, Policymakers and Government must grapple.

Moreover the availability and accessibility of these services to the

population are integral parts of any country's development.



     Other indicators reveal very interesting characteristics, and

suggest further critical areas of concern. The current fertility rate is

2.8 and expected to remain more or less at this level into the year

2000; the crude birth rate of 24/1000 is also anticipated to hold, with

the possibility of a marginal decrease by 2000. The infant fertility

rate, showing a sustained, downward trend over the last ten (10) years

is now 17/1000 and expected to fall to about 12/100  by 2000. Life

expectancy has increased to 69.7 and 72.2 years spectively for males and

females. With the restrictions imposed traditional receiving countries,

migration opportunities are for below what they were in the 1960's and

1970's.



     With this combination of reduced migration opportunities,

increased life expectancy and a lowered infant mortality rate together

with the number of women of child bearing age in the population (20.5%

[21,8%) it is projected that the population would be 114,569 by 2000,

growing at an annual average rate of 0.7S% per annum.



     population Density and Distribution By virtue of the island's

topography, all major settlements are located along the island's coast

line with some 25% (26,625) of the population being concentrated in the

southern cone - where it is relatively easier to provide and access

jobs, education, health care and other amenities. The population growth

over the last twenty {20) years however, has brought some pressure to

bear on these settlements and has encouraged urban drift, creating

several squatter settlements without benefit of the basic

infrastructural support.



     In an effort to stem the rural urban drift and to reduce the

incidence of these unplanned settlements, Government has implemented a

land reform programme designed to improve the  economic situation in the

rural areas, expanded rural health and education facilities and invested

heavily in the transport sector offering workers the option of commuting

to the workplace instead of migranting  to the urban area.



     Unemployment and Women



     As earlier mentioned, St. Vincent and the Grenadines' unemployment

rate from the 1991 Census was 19.8% (8,238). Since then, as has occurred

in the other Windward Islands, the contribution of bananas

to domestic exports and the GDP has declined from     and.....to  and

respectively. Additionally, there has been  a decline in the previously

small but growing manufacturing sector



     Even with the absence of empirical data, this combination would

suggest a decrease in the island's economically active population in a

situation where the capacity to readily absorb displaced labour is

limited. Added to this, the cohorts of school leavers who annually enter

the labour market and the scenario is disquieting.



     Women are more affected by unemployment than men and among the

unemployed, there are more women with secondary and post-secondary

education 14% (1,133) than men 11% (925). 39.3% (10,617) of all

household heads in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are women and the

Census data show that of these, 46.2% (4,902) were economically active

in 1991 while more than half, 53.8% (5,715) were unemployed.



     The events occurring over the past two (2) years and are even now

continuing, must surely impact on these female household heads - as well

as other groups in the population but women were brought into focus here

because they are the most vulnerable and significant group in St.

Vincent and the Grenadines.



     Access to employment is an important determinant in the quality of

life.



     Housing and the Environment



     Over the last ten(10) years, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has

experienced a tremendous rise in the demand for housing and in the wake

of a 33.08% increase in housing units from 20,290 in 1980 to 27,002 in

1991, has sustained some environmental damage.



     Tree cover has been lost as forested areas have been and continue

to be cleared to meet the demand for housing. These unplanned

settlements create problems of erosion and affect the potable water

supply as pollutants are introduced into the water system. Pressure is

also brought to bear on the existing social services as efforts must be

made to meet the needs of these settlements.



     As the population continues to grow and man encroaches on

environmentally-sensitive areas, it can be expected that the island's

delicately balanced eco-system will be disrupted.



     Health



The results of the 1991 Census show significant gains in maternal and

infant mortality, life expectancy, child immunisation and nutrition, an

indication of the general health improvement of the population.

Notwithstanding this, the lifestyle diseases (particularly hypertension

and diabetes) continue to be of concern, while the incidence of HIV/AIDS

and drug abuse pose the major health hazards.



     The presence of HIV in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines'

population cannot be downplayed especially when taken together with the

age structure of the population and the early sexual activity manifested

in the average 24% births to teenagers annually. The effect of HIV/AIDS

on the work force and the pressure on the health care system cannot be

underestimated.



     Education



     Education appears to be the point of departure for all discussion

of population issues in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.



     While access to primary school education is almost universal,

there is a severe short-fall in places at the secondary level with 46%

(6,949) of the children of secondary school age being enrolled in

secondary school, where girls outnumber boys almost 2 to 1.



     However, because the system is academically oriented, many

aspiring entrants to the job market find themselves without the skills

needed to secure employment and girls are more affected than boys. This

mismatch of formal education with the demands of the economy is further

aggravated by a weak non-formal base creating conditions for many of the

social problems we see today.



     Conclusion



     As we enter the 2Oth century, cognizant of the need to retard

population growth, we are also fully aware that this Conference is not

simply about the issue of numbers only. Like the other small Caribbean

countries, our resources are limited and we require special attention,

support and assistance in effectively managing our population and

development issues.



     Our experience has shown that our success in achieving high levels

of economic growth and development, accompanied by increased educational

opportunities for women and other low income groups, together with the

availability, accessibility and acceptability of Family Planning methods

have been the pillars of our declining population growth rate from 1.17%

in the 1970's to the current 0.77% the lowest recorded since 1931.



     Our realisation of an acceptable rate of population growth

compatible with sustainability is dependent on our national effort as

well as the co-operation and assistance which we can obtain from the

international community.




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