building a society for all ages

Second World Assembly on Ageing Madrid, Spain 8 -12 April 2002

Population planning on the development agenda

"As we enter a new century and a new millennium, old and young - and all in between - are called upon to join in the common task of shaping a rapidly changing world. It is up to us, whatever our age, to ensure that no contribution to this endevour is wasted because of age discrimination."

-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Population has long been recognized as one of the most important factors in the development process. Through much of the second half of the 20th century, rapid population growth and the issues related to reducing levels of mortality and fertility were on centre stage. But today, the ageing of the population is increasingly being recognized as a process of major significance for all societies. At the International Conference on Population and Development, goals were set concerning population trends and development. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the UN agency responsible for overseeing the work to meet those goals.

The Fund (UNFPA), which in the past has focused primarily on the rapidly increasing population in the world, is also mandated to increase awareness of population challenges that the world will be facing in the 21st century, such as population ageing. In that context, UNFPA is working to raise awareness and help countries prepare for what is to come. The Fund considers population ageing issues to be a part of the development process, and works to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to address the concerns of older persons - especially the older poor. UNFPA is also attempting to re-orient thinking about ageing, both individual and societal, and to promote the integration of ageing into a broader development framework that takes into account lifelong individual development and relationships among generations.

UNFPA's strategy on ageing focuses on four main areas: advocacy, technical assistance, training and research. It coordinates ageing programmes among governments, development agencies, NGOs and the private sector. It supports the training of researchers and policy-makers and research on populations at risk, socio-cultural studies, and the situation and needs of older persons.

In its activities, UNFPA emphasizes national and local capacity-building, with special focus on the most vulnerable older persons, including those who are very poor, those who are very old and frail, older women, minority groups, and rural communities. It supports a variety of types of projects, such as those that include life-course and multi-generational dimensions, and projects that support active ageing, income security, preventive health are, and community-based care and support. It also encourages a proactive approach, for timely and effective policy and programme interventions to enhance the quality of life of older persons.

Preparing for Madrid
UNFPA is taking part in the preparatory activities leading up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002. In collaboration with the United Nations Programme on Ageing, it organized a Panel on Ageing and Development (United Nations Headquarters, October 2000) to explore ways to respond to the consequences of population ageing and to provide a forum for discussing the implications of population ageing on development. To explore ways to reduce poverty in old age, especially among older women and the frail in developing countries, it convened an Expert Group Meeting on Population Ageing and Development (Malta, 29-31 October 2001) in collaboration with the United Nations Programme on Ageing, the American Association of Retired Persons and HelpAge International.

At that meeting, experts from around the world presented papers on issues related to population ageing and development, with a focus on the poor in old age in developing countries. Some key issues emerged, such as donor bias, which has been attributed to a lack of understanding of the difficulties faced by older people in many countries, where pension schemes are either inadequate or don't exist, and where traditional family supports have eroded. A lack of policy and programmatic focus on older people in developing countries, especially the poor old, most of whom are women, was identified. At the same time, it was recognized that the positive economic and social contributions made by older persons - such as the 3 million grandparents in the USA who are the sole caregivers for their grandchildren - must be highlighted.

Participatory surveys
A new element presented in some of the research was an increase in surveys that ask older poor directly what their main concerns, issues and needs are. Some concerns were common. Many older women said that they had been victims of violence, often within the household, due to competition for scarce resources. And many older persons expressed fear of losing their home - in all areas and countries, both developing and developed.

UNFPA is using the opportunity of the Second World Assembly on Ageing to place issues arising from population ageing - especially the basic social and health needs of older persons in developing countries - on the global development agenda. The Fund will participate actively in the Second World Assembly in Madrid and in the side events that are being planned.

This article was based on information provided by UNFPA.

For further information, please contact:

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Abubakar Dungus, tel:(1-212) 297-5031

For media inquiries, please contact:
United Nations Department of Public Information
Tel: (1-212) 963-0499

Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information DPI/2264 March 2002

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