14 October 2004


Press Release

Deputy Secretary-General says profound, far-reaching gains in population issues

tempered by ‘unfinished agenda’, at General Assembly commemoration

Following are Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s remarks to the General Assembly commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in New York, 14 October:

Three decades ago in Bucharest, the World Population Conference overcame political differences to adopt a ground-breaking, comprehensive plan of action.  That plan gave the world its first template for integrating population concerns into economic and social development, and established the basic principles guiding population programmes today.

Ten years later in Mexico City, despite serious disagreements on some questions, the International Conference on Population adopted additional recommendations that recognized the need for wider access to family planning, and underscored the importance of issues such as the needs of adolescents and the role of men.

And then, of course, ten years ago in Cairo, the world’s efforts to address the intertwined challenges of population and development took another major step forward.  The Programme of Action adopted there situated population issues more firmly into the broader quest for development and poverty reduction.  It linked them more prominently with sustainable development, reflecting the results of the Earth Summit two years earlier.  It gave renewed prominence to education, particularly of girls, as an agent of change.  It stressed the importance of reproductive health, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  And it gave wide and systematic recognition to the role of non-governmental organizations.

Today, countries throughout the world continue to use the ICPD Programme in forging the strategies and policies with which they hope to address population issues and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  And they are making substantial progress, building on the achievements of earlier decades.

The world is beginning to see the end of rapid population growth, which should help in the struggle against poverty and pollution.  Life expectancy continues to rise in all regions of the world except eastern and southern Africa and eastern Europe.  Fertility continues to decline in virtually every region of the world.  Couples have increasing access to the reproductive health programmes, contraceptives, and information they need to choose the number and spacing of their children.

These and other gains are profound and far-reaching, as they involve some of the most basic and intimate human experiences:  birth, death, and marriage; the joy of seeing grandparents survive or children spared needless suffering and death from a preventable disease.

Yet any satisfaction we may feel at the expansion of rights and freedoms involving population issues must be tempered by an acute awareness of the unfinished agenda, the fact that parts of the world are not sharing in this progress, and the daunting challenges that have emerged in the meantime.

High population growth remains a concern for much of the developing world, while some developed countries have expressed concern that their population is growing too slowly -- or in some cases, even declining.

AIDS is taking a devastating toll -- particularly in Africa, where it is reversing the rise of life expectancy in some countries and erasing decades of economic and social progress.

Declines in fertility and increased longevity mean that societies, developed and developing alike, are now wrestling with the wide-ranging implications of ageing, including the need for health care, pensions and safety nets and to ensure the social integration of older persons.

Rapid urbanization is yet another population challenge.  So is international migration.  Some 175 million people now reside in a country other than the one where they were born, and people continue to risk their lives in search of opportunities in wealthier countries.  The vast majority of migrants are making meaningful contributions.  In some cases, however, migration gives rise to economic, political and social tensions.

And we have yet to achieve universal access to vitally needed reproductive health services and family planning, which we must do if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and advance the status of women.  Instead, too many women and girls go without, leading to unplanned or mistimed births that keep families in poverty, threaten maternal and child health, and increase the rate at which girls drop out of school.  And the persistence of widespread discrimination and violence against women and girls also helps to perpetuate the vicious circle of poverty and poor health. 

It is only a little more than a generation since the international community collectively started addressing population and development issues.  While much has been achieved and much has been learned, there have also been shortfalls and gaps.  In the coming years and decades we can and must go much further. 

The regional review meetings that have taken place during the past two years have shown strong support for the Cairo consensus in all parts of the world.  Civil society is also deeply engaged, including through such initiatives as the world leaders’ statement that was formally presented to the United Nations yesterday.  And our commemoration here today should contribute to preparations for the important events planned for the next year:  the ten-year reviews of both the Beijing and Copenhagen conferences and the five-year review of the Millennium Declaration.

So I hope governments are ready to forge closer partnerships and provide the necessary resources, notably to the United Nations agencies that do such important work on the ground, helping people to improve their daily lives.  As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the ICPD, I would like to commend UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, for its tireless and brave efforts in advancing the Cairo agenda.  As we look ahead, I urge you to overcome your remaining differences on sensitive issues, reaffirm your full commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action, and intensify our common work towards a world of development and well-being for all.

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For information media. Not an official record.