No. 1- "POPULATION AND THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS'
The first in an autumn 2003 series of four symposia on themes relating to population and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was held 22 October at the New York headquarters of the United Nations Population Fund. The event, sponsored jointly by The Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) and the Partners in Population and Development, featured presentations by the Permanent Representatives and Ambassadors the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Denmark and Senegal, as well as the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund. Mr. Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the OHRLLS, introduced the speakers in turn and served as moderator.
H. E. Ms. Paulette A. Bethel, Ambassador of the Bahamas, addressed the relationship of the MDGs to the social, economic and environmental "vulnerabilities" of the 45 Small Island Developing States (SIDS). These vulnerabilities included their remoteness, high cost of administration and infrastructure, lack of economies of scale, susceptibility to natural disasters, limited natural resources, fragile ecosystems, high transportation and communication costs, high dependence on international trade and equally high vulnerability to global, economic and financial developments.
Ambassador Bethel then reviewed the MDGs in the context of the SIDS' vulnerabilities, making reference along the way to population-related issues. She selected three of the goals as being critical to achieving all the others: building a global partnership for development, combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and promoting gender equality and empowering women. Within the Caribbean, she observed, those SIDS most seriously affected by HIV/AIDS were the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. While some successes were reported in the Bahamas in reducing the rate of HIV/AIDS infections, the cost of educational and other advocacy programmes represented an enormous burden on the country's limited resources.
H. E. Mr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Ambassador of Bangladesh, spoke of the need for political leaders to demonstrate their "domestic responsibility" for promoting development efforts. The Government of Bangladesh, he said, had taken such responsibility to heart, and had achieved significant results, such as a marked fertility decline, which is enabling the country to focus on a broader range of development goals. In recent years, the role of the civil society in Bangladesh-including the many dedicated NGOs operating in the country-has been cited as an example that might be emulated elsewhere in the developing world. "It has proven to be a fine experience," he said, "and I am pleased to share it at this meeting."
At the same time, the Ambassador stressed the importance of pursuing the natural linkages that existed between the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals.
H. E. Ms. Margrethe Loj, Ambassador of Denmark, drew attention to the population and health concerns of gender equality, reproductive health and rights of adolescents, and HIV/AIDS-all of which, she noted, had a debilitating impact on efforts to eradicate poverty and to promote development. She referred to the essential linkages that existed between the goals of the Millennium Development initiative and those of the Programme of Action emerging from the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and she pointed to progress made in countries where national development strategies had been adopted that embodied elements of both sets of goals.
Ambassador Loj praised the partnership approach within the South-south context as a means of mobilizing governments, the private sector and the NGO community for improving prospects of attaining development goals at national level. She referred to Denmark's own development assistance programme, thematically entitled "A World of Difference", which has been designed to combine bilateral and bilateral efforts to improve health, reproductive health and to combat HIV/AIDS.
It was essential, she concluded, that commitments made at Cairo in 1994 are put into action, since "respect for sexual and reproductive health and rights and adequate reproductive health care and services are indispensable elements in the fight against poverty and thus in achieving the Millennium Development Goals."
H.E. Mr. Papa Louis Fall, Ambassador of Senegal, spelled out some of the starkly difficult challenges for development as seen from an African perspective. Of the 50 least developed countries in the world, 34 were located within Africa. "Poverty," said Ambassador Fall, "remains the continent's greatest concern. Since the number of people currently living in absolute poverty is expected to grow from 300 million to 450 million within the next few years, most countries in Africa are unlikely to achieve much in the way of MDGs by 2015."
According to Mr. Fall, hopes of attaining progress in relation to MDGs were dependent upon building capacities to respond to population-related matters and to assurance of food security. Conflict resolution within Africa and reduction in the incidence of HIV/AIDS infection were also seen as critically important issues. On the topic of HIV/AIDS, mention was made of the two notable successes in reducing rates of infection: Uganda, where a 10 percent reduction has been recorded, and Senegal, with a more modest two percent reduction. "Other countries in the region," added Mr. Fall, "should be able to make similar advances, using opinion leaders, including religious clerics, who can be very influential in promoting prevention methods--the use of condoms."
Support from the donor community was seen as vital for the expansion of these and other development efforts, and much would depend on donors meeting targets for development assistance, on promotion of "free but fair trade in the agricultural sector, and on the potential relief of debt burden for many of the countries in Africa. Finally, mention was made of a New Partnership for Development Programmes forged in Zambia shortly after the UN Millennium Declaration. Called NEPAT, the regional agreement may help to promote good governance, among other initiatives.
Ms. Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), placed strong emphasis on the fact that the MDGs had become a "focus for our work." She observed that with the exception of the omission from the MDGs of reproductive health matters, all other goals meshed fully with those of the ICPD Programme of Action. "But I will be blunt," she said. "The goal of poverty eradication could not be achieved without reference to improvement in the reproductive health within a given society."
Ms. Obaid went on
to discuss the current challenges facing the less developed regions of
the world, where unplanned urbanization is growing so rapidly that 40
percent of the population now reside in and around cities. There was also
the challenge posed by the burgeoning youth population and the threat
of social instability that could derail genuine development efforts. "Listen
to the youth," she declared. "Invest in young people, because
if they are stable, society will be stable."
Recalling that there would be a review of progress achieved on the MDGs, the Executive Director , said that UNFPA was already working with a number of countries in efforts to reach some of the goals.
* * *
During the question period following the four presentations, Ambassador Fall of Senegal declared that he was not optimistic about the chances in Africa of reaching goals relating to the economy. He referred again to food security as a key issue that must be tackled successfully
When asked to comment
on Bangladesh's exemplary efforts in reducing population growth rates,
Ambassador Chowdhury attributed part of the reason to good luck: "We
were driven by economic needs and he have secular elements in our society
that did not pose objections. But now we are in a different phase of development
and we are facing the problem of a kind of intelligence stagnation."
Ms. Obaid picked up on this aspect of the discussion by recalling that her own country, Saudi Arabia, was very conservative and that there could be resistance to certain development initiatives. In Iran, on the other hand, there was a different spirit, because the Shia sect was more open to discussion about intimate topics, like population. But changes were coming about globally, among all religions, and it was important to take up efforts at all levels, "perhaps not at the Pope's level, but at the priest's level."
Questioned about efforts to promote economic development and trade within Africa, Ambassador Loj touched upon the promotion of private investment. She said it was evident that private investment goes where the conditions are right, and where there is good governance, an enabling environment, and no corruption. "And where it is a joint effort, private investment could be increased, " she added. Regarding African access to markets, "Denmark is for free and fair trade, but there is always the problem of red tape which defeats the best efforts . . . and fine declarations are simply not enough. The real vulnerability in largely agricultural nations is that many countries rely on single crops."
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Jyoti Singh, Permanent Observer for Partners in Population and Development, thanked all the Ambassadors for their participation in the symposium and for their contributions. He also thanked the UNFPA Executive Director for her permission to use the Fund's conference room as venue, for her own active participation in the deliberations, and for her interest in the work of Partners as advocates for South-south cooperation.
The goals of Cairo and of the Millennium Development declaration were not all-inclusive, said Mr. Singh; in fact, the goals of all the major United Nations conferences in recent years remain valid in relation to efforts to achieve poverty reduction. In closing the meeting, he noted that the three remaining symposia in the series would help to shed light on the broader range of development goals, including education and HIV/AIDS.