building a society for all ages

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

Second World Assembly on Ageing

"If history serves as a guide, the Plan of Action will shape the content of national, regional and international policies on ageing in the decades to come."

—Ambassador Felipe Paolillo, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing

The twentieth century witnessed a historical lengthening of the human life span. Over the last 50 years, life expectancy at birth has climbed globally by about 20 years to reach 66 years, thanks to advancements in medical knowledge and technology. Already about one million people cross the threshold of age 60 every month—80 per cent of them in developing countries. The fastest-growing segment of the older population is the oldest one—comprising those 80 and older. That group numbers 70 million, and over the next 50 years it is projected to grow to five times its present number.

This demographic transformation, while celebrated by individuals and society at large, has profound implications for the quality of life, healthy ageing, social integration, the situation of older women and the provision of social services over the long course of life. These issues should not overshadow a troubling reality in parts of the developing world, where old age comes earlier for many people, who are worn down by poverty and disease. Prolonged economic and psychosocial hardships, compounded by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, have reversed life expectancy gains in some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

From Vienna to Madrid

Twenty years ago, the First World Assembly on Ageing was held in Vienna. Already, the increasing number of older people and their issues were becoming apparent. The purpose of the Assembly was to bring much-needed attention to the economic, psychosocial and health-care concerns of the older person. As a result, the International Plan of Action, calling for humanitarian and developmental approaches to ageing, was developed.

Since then, additional factors have arisen, for example, the impact of HIV/AIDS on the ageing. The Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid will address the unresolved issues mentioned below, as well as the newer challenges. As in all United Nations processes that involve negotiation and agreement of language, the final adoption in Madrid of the Plan of Action will have been achieved through a thorough and demanding process of examination, deliberation and compromise.

Why the Second World Assembly on Ageing?

The General Assembly resolved to hold the Second World Assembly in 2002 in order to assess the progress made by Member States during the past 20 years in implementing the Vienna Plan of Action. A Preparatory Committee was established to review new challenges and barriers to progress, and to provide an outcome document for the World Assembly - a new Plan of Action on Ageing. However, some outstanding issues in the outcome document remain, among them:

· The role of debt relief and other financing to address population ageing in developing countries;

· A global approach to ageing and development based on human rights;

· The need to work, options for an ageing labour force and pension rights;

· Health care and needs for care services;

· Monitoring, promotion and implementation of the Plan of Action, including resource allocation and international cooperation.

International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002

The draft Plan of Action on Ageing 2002, to be adopted in Madrid, calls for changes in attitudes, in national and international policies, and in community, corporate and organizational practices, so that the enormous potential of ageing in the twenty-first century is fulfilled. It seeks to ensure that people everywhere will be enabled to age with security and dignity, and continue to participate in their societies as citizens with full rights.

The Plan’s recommendations for action are organized according to three priorities: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments. The recommendations reflect the central themes of the Plan of Action:

· The achievement of secure ageing—to reaffirm the goal of eradicating poverty in old age and to build on the United Nations Principles for Older Persons;

· Empowerment of older persons to participate fully and effectively in the social, economic and political lives of their societies;

· Provision of opportunities for individual development, self-fulfillment and well-being throughout life as well as in late life;

· Guaranteeing the economic, social and cultural rights of older persons as well as their civil and political rights;

· Commitment to gender equality in older persons through elimination of gender-based discrimination;

· Recognition of the crucial importance of inter-generational interdependence, solidarity and reciprocity for social development;

· Provision of health care and support for older people, as they are needed;

· Facilitating partnership between all levels of government, civil society, the private sector and older persons themselves in putting the Plan of Action into effect;

· Harnessing of scientific research and expertise to focus on the individual, social and health implications of ageing, particularly within developing countries.

Follow-up to the Assembly in Madrid is expected to be far-reaching. It is hoped that the adoption of the Plan of Action will bolster intergovernmental mandates and the political will of governments towards implementation. In this regard, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) will be staging a Ministerial Conference on Ageing in Berlin from 11 to 13 September. Ministers from ECE Member States and international NGOs will take part in the dialogue aimed at developing and implementing regional policy guidelines for older persons. Details on this regional conference can be found by visiting:


The demographic revolution has spawned intense debate as to how population ageing should be viewed. The longevity breakthrough must be viewed as an achievement, and the resulting accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, practical experience and human growth should be put to productive use. The rapid ageing of the population is occurring along with two other powerful forces, globalization and urbanization, and will have a profound impact on our societies— one that cannot be measured or predicted, but one that we should prepare for. Social planners must include policies for the ageing population, which must be innovative, creative and flexible and likely to result in new plans and strategies. The best possible society will be "a society for all ages" where opportunities exist for older persons to act as mentors and advisers, where the value of their experience and wisdom is irreplaceable.

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

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