10 October 2001


Press Release

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

6th Meeting (AM)



Members of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this morning focused on the impact of the world’s rapidly ageing population  -- sparked mainly by new medical technologies -- on efforts to achieve real and sustainable development.

As the Committee began its third day of deliberations on social development issues, the representative of Singapore said that life expectancy was now

66 years, and with medical technology it could increase to 80, or even 90, by 2050. That would prompt a jump in the percentage of people over 60 from today’s

10 per cent to 13 per cent by 2020, and 22 per cent by 2050.

That, she predicted, would put greater stress on social budgets across the globe.  In Singapore, for example, the Ministry of Health had estimated that elderly persons, although comprising only 7 per cent of the population, would make up close to 20 per cent of emergency and acute care facility cases. 

But speakers also stressed the positive aspects of an ageing population.  The representative of Pakistan said it was important to remember that elderly people were not a liability.  They possessed a great reservoir of cumulative wisdom and experience, which could be used by societies in their development processes. 

Other speakers agreed.  One said that the elderly played a valuable role in today’s complex society.  Traditionally, in most cultures, older persons had been repositories of wisdom and stability for their communities.  But, in relatively recent times, the focus had been on youth culture.  It was important to restore older persons to their proper, respected place.

In that regard, the representative of the Republic of Korea looked forward to the upcoming Second World Assembly on Ageing, to be held next year in Madrid. Discussions at the assembly would hopefully generate new momentum to incorporate the potential of the older persons in the social development process and build a world for all ages.

Other country representatives this morning spoke about additional social development issues, including overcoming the impact of globalization, eradicating poverty and reducing global illiteracy. 

Other representatives participating in the discussion included Angola, Saint Lucia (speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Mongolia, Namibia, Syria and Venezuela.

Representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank also spoke.

The Third Committee will meet again tomorrow, at 10 a.m., to conclude its consideration of social development issues.

Committee Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its joint consideration of social development issues, including questions related to the world social situation and to youth, ageing, disabled persons and the family.  (For background information see Press Release GA/SHC/3627 of 8 October.)


ISMAEL GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said the World Summit for Social Development in 1995 was an important catalyst for increasing international commitments to social development.  The Summit brought international attention to the challenges encountered in a world where widespread poverty continued to shadow the lives of many people.  One commitment from the Summit had established a number of key goals for action to be undertaken by governments, bilateral and multilateral donors, civil society groups and the private sector.

The seven years since the Summit had seen an uneven but significant shift of priorities, he said.  Currently, unlike in the past, support for social aspects of development was broader than, but still inclusive of, the provision of social services.  Vital to the improvement of societies and individual well-being was the building up of human capacities and assets through education, improved health and social cohesion.  Social development was now based on government policies, donor coordination, greater participation by communities and new roles for partnerships.  However, there continued to remain significant gaps between what had been learned and the capacities of different countries to engage in social development in new and innovative ways.  The countries that adhered to their commitment to contribute resources to promote social development were applauded.  Also hailed were the United Nations agencies that provided reports and made recommendations for further initiatives to overcome obstacles and strengthen social development.

MICHELLE JOSEPH (Saint Lucia), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the contemporary international system, with its increasing emphasis on globalization and economic liberalization, posed formidable social development challenges for small island States. A recent analysis of social and economic development in the Caribbean region had revealed that the globalization of markets had struck the very core of the domestic structures of those States, negatively impacting their march towards sustainability.

She said the inequities and imbalances resulting from the globalization phenomena should be the focus of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Financing for Development, scheduled to be held in Monterrey in 2002.  That Conference would provide an opportunity for the international community to address the interrelated nature of social issues, the right to development and the new globalized economic environment.

She said that one important issue affecting social development was migration.  That phenomenon posed significant challenges at national and regional levels.  A number of studies undertaken by regional experts on the relationship between migration and development had highlighted the fact that migration was a significant indicator of social and economic realities within individual States or regions.  It was generally believed that globalization, along with new information technologies, had sparked a migration process that had seriously affected her region.  Within CARICOM, member States had made significant strides in addressing that issue.  They had completed a mechanism which would, among other things, facilitate the free flow of new technologies and education aids throughout the region.

She went on to note that CARICOM had coordinated on other vital social development issues, particularly concerning youth, gender, disabled persons and ageing.  The Community was very concerned by high unemployment among youth.  In order to address that concern, governments in the region were attempting to develop programmes that linked education and training with job opportunities.  On ageing, the countries had embarked on a number of activities to ensure the continued productivity of the older persons via participation in micro-enterprises and advisory services, among others.

SHAMEEM AHSAN (Bangladesh) said the issues concerning social development had assumed greater significance, as the uncertainty looming over the global economy had increased following the terrorist attacks of 11 September.  The Committee’s current deliberations needed to focus on how best to advance social development goals in a challenging environment.  The blueprint for social development, as laid out in Copenhagen and further advanced in Geneva, provided the framework to sustain social development in the twenty-first century.  It was useful that the Commission for Social Development could finalize its multi-year programme of work that ensured follow-up action by the United Nations on various aspects of social development.  The Commission's core theme for next year, integration of social and economic policy, would be very timely given the need for States to look at economic and social development in an integrated manner to minimize the human cost of macroeconomic policies and the forces of globalization.

The least developed countries were particularly vulnerable if the world social situation deteriorated further, he said.  The Brussels Programme of Action for the least developed countries sought to fulfil the various United Nations social development targets and goals relevant to those countries, and had identified a clear set of actions that they were required to fulfil, including the increasing of budgetary allocations in favour of social infrastructure and basic social services.  The Action Programme also called for training for social service providers, encouraging public-private partnerships for social development, and improving housing and national health facilities.  The least developed countries would also continue to take steps to empower people living in poverty, especially women, and to improve their access to basic social services.  Those countries were committed to take those measures, but their efforts would be futile if their development partners, including the international financial institutions, failed to fulfil their part of the undertakings.

KOK LI PENG (Singapore) said three years after the General Assembly debated the issue of ageing, an excellent report, The World Ageing Situation 2001, had been released, stating that life expectancy at birth had climbed globally by about 20 years since 1950, to its current level of 66 years.  The report noted that longevity was a reality shared by both developed and developing countries.  Given the many medical innovations for the care of older persons, it would not be a stretch to say that life expectancy could reach 80, or even 90, by 2050.

At the same time that people were living longer, there was an acceleration in the number of people joining the ranks of the "elderly" or "old".  According to the report, 10 per cent of the world's population was 60 and above, but this was expected to rise to 13 per cent in 2020, and more than double to 22 per cent in 2050.  Therefore, the efforts of the United Nations to focus attention on the issue of ageing were timely and bearing fruit.  Attitudes towards older persons were shifting back from one of learned helplessness to one of lifelong contribution.  The aged inhabit a valuable role in society of complex lives.  Traditionally, in most cultures, they had been repositories of wisdom and stability for their communities.  However, in relatively recent time, the role of the aged had been diminished in favour of a youth culture.  It was important to restore older persons to their proper, respected place.

The scope of this issue was significant for Singapore.  From now until 2030, the proportion of Singaporeans aged 65 and above was set to triple from

7 per cent in 2010 to 19 per cent in 2030.  The Ministry of Health estimated that older persons, although comprising only 7 per cent of the population, would consume close to 20 per cent of attendance at government clinics, emergency wards, specialist outpatient clinics and admissions to acute care wards.  Therefore, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Healthcare for the Elderly was formed in 1997 to review their healthcare needs and to identify measures to ensure that those needs would continue to be met and be affordable.  The committee's recommendations were supplemented by another committee, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Ageing Population, which was formed in 1998 to study and make relevant recommendations.  Now healthcare for older persons was provided through a spectrum comprising acute care treatment and community-based care treatment.  The acute care was at government clinics, general practitioner clinics and hospitals and specialists' centres; while the community-based treatment took place in day rehabilitation centres, day centres, in homes and in nursing homes.  To keep costs affordable, all Singaporeans had Medisave accounts, which comprised 6 to 8 per cent of one's income.  Upon retirement, there had to be $100,000 in a person's account.  In addition, the responsible ministries were regularly monitoring demographic trends and changes in elderly care needs to continue cost-effective and quality care for the aged.

MAKMUR WIDODO (Indonesia) said that despite a decade of unprecedented global economic growth, many regions were currently experiencing stagnant social development.  Globalization and economic crises had compounded widespread poverty and unemployment in the developing world and had hobbled the efforts of many of those countries to realize their commitments to improving social welfare.  The 1995 Copenhagen Summit on Social Development and the recently convened Assembly special session offered some encouragement that the international community would remain fully engaged in social development issues.

At the same time, he continued, Indonesia recognized that many of the goals set in Copenhagen had remained unfulfilled.  In that regard, the country had met its national responsibility to improve the social situation and enhance social integration.  Indonesia’s President had set clear goals aimed at reducing poverty and improving access to employment and education.  At the same time, all should recognize that many of the obstacles to social development must be addressed at the international level. 

Some issues in that regard included not only providing adequate resources and technical assistance for social development, but also ensuring that all nations could cope with the impact of globalization.  Indeed, it was only at the international level that necessary coordination could be forged to ensure efficient and comprehensive initiatives to achieve widespread social development.  As the world attempted to enhance social welfare for all peoples, Indonesia looked forward to the convening of several important and relevant upcoming conferences, including the Second World Assembly on Ageing and the International Conference on Financing for Development.

KANG KYUNG-WHA (Republic of Korea) said the ageing of the global population stood as one of the major challenges of the twenty-first century.  It was a challenge that could not be met in separation from other concerns, such as social integration, poverty elimination, economic stability, sustainable development and gender equality.  It was clear that social development could not be achieved without adequately addressing the issue of ageing.  Increasing the burden on the productive population and dropping productivity of society were some of the consequences foreseen in relation to the rapid expansion of the elderly age bracket.  It would also lead to greater government spending in social security and welfare programmes for the elderly.  The Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted at the first World Assembly on Ageing in 1982, provided each government with a broad range of recommendations for national strategies to deal with those issues.

Ageing affected each and every human being, she said.  Everyone aged, and everyone would like to do so with dignity.  In many traditional societies, the dignity was provided through the extended family which provided protection for the elderly and other vulnerable members of society, along with a system of moral codes that dictated respect and care for the elderly, who carried out the role of giving guidance to society with their wisdom and experience.  Unfortunately, the extended family was increasingly untenable under the fast pace of life in today's constantly changing world, and traditional moral codes were being cast aside as people tried to keep up with the growing demands of the globalizing world.  In the process, the elderly had become stripped of their traditional roles, without being assigned a new, meaningful place in society.  The consequences had been even more pronounced in countries struggling with economic difficulties.  Korea attached great significance to the Second World Assembly on Ageing, and had actively taken part in the preparation process.  Her Government would continue to work for the success of the Assembly.  It looked forward to participating in informative and fruitful discussions at the Assembly, which should generate new momentum to incorporate the potential of older persons in the social development process and build a world for all ages.

MS. MAW MAW, Deputy Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, said that following the 1995 Copenhagen Summit on Social Development, States had actively attempted to create an environment that would promote broad social development.  At the same time, however, results towards that end tended to vary, depending on each country’s specific circumstances or access to resources.  In Myanmar, the focal point for social development had been the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, which worked actively with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on issues ranging from education and health to youth and disaster relief.

She said that since education was the key to all Myanmar’s social and economic development goals, the country was now implementing a plan to ensure that all children enrolled in primary schools and that at least 80 per cent of all children completed their primary studies.  Attention had also been paid to university-level education.  The country’s Union of Solidarity Development Association, with a membership of almost 10 million youths, facilitated participation in computer training courses and international relations, among other programmes.  Overall, Myanmar had been continuously formulating and implementing programmes aimed at achieving progress in social development.  It was important to remember that the development success achieved by small countries could contribute to relevant international efforts and even enhance peace and security.

ENRIQUE MANALO (Philippines) said many Member States had made serious efforts to address the needs of persons with disabilities and improve their access to public buildings, transportation and communications.  Other Members States  had taken pains to develop policies that would make the environment of persons with disabilities barrier-free.  The Philippines was deeply concerned for people with disabilities, and committed to investing in providing for their needs.  The Philippines continued to support and promote the need to remove barriers in the environment that made it difficult for disabled persons to participate fully in the activities of their societies.  Last year, the Philippines strengthened its Accessibility Law by directing concerned government agencies to provide for architectural or structural features for persons with disabilities in all state colleges and universities so as to hasten the integration of students with disabilities into the mainstream of Philippine society.

The Philippines recognized the importance of information technology, including the Internet as a tool for generating possibilities for improving the accessibility and equalizing opportunities of disabled persons.  His Government also took note of the work done in combating discrimination against persons with disabilities since the completion of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992).  The forthcoming review on the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons should provide insights on the areas that still needed to be addressed, particularly actions to increase the accessibility of persons with disabilities and to promote their independence, self-fulfillment and dignity.

O. ENKHTSETSEG, Director, Department of Multilateral Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Mongolia, said all the negative effects of globalization -- persistent exclusion, marginalization and economic inequality among the most obvious -- were being further exacerbated by both existing and evolving transboundary threats, particularly widespread poverty.  While the 1990’s could be seen as a “decade of commitments”, it was now clear that as so many international goals remained unfulfilled, it was imperative for all stakeholders to redouble their efforts, particularly those aimed at halving poverty by 2015.

She said that Mongolia stood ready to ensure its economic recovery and growth.  The country would work to effectively reduce poverty, enforce the rule of law and promote sustainable development.  Her Government had developed a national programme on good governance and human security aimed at achieving human security through coherent policy initiatives that encompassed economic, social, political, legal and ecological concerns.  While Mongolia recognized and welcomed its national responsibility for social development, international cooperation and support were also needed to ensure implementation of agreed targets. (end)

ISHTIAQ HUSSAIN ANDRABI (Pakistan) said social development essentially meant achieving a higher quality of life for all segments of society, including those who, due to various factors, were vulnerable, including elderly and disabled persons and children.  Social development was about empowerment through participation, social integration and equality of opportunities.  Social and economic development of individuals, communities and societies was interlinked and interdependent.

The world social situation today was far from satisfactory as marginal or no progress had been made in several key areas, and many areas had seen a reversal of gains made earlier, he said.  Inequality within and among countries still existed, and was growing.  Abject poverty and endemic deprivation had increased, along with discrimination, social exclusion, intolerance and marginalization.  Conflicts remained unsolved.  Controversial social and cultural norms and behaviours were destroying basic elements of the society.  Those factors called for more comprehensive global efforts, and probably required a revisiting of the world social agenda.

The world's elderly population was growing at a rapid rate, he continued.  It was projected to grow by almost 2 billion by 2050.  While looking at the detrimental impact of ageing on development, it had to be kept in mind that elderly people were not liabilities.  They possessed great reservoirs of cumulative wisdom and experience, which could be used by societies in their development process.  Like any other social group, particularly vulnerable ones, what was needed was extra care for their protection and well-being, while maintaining their dignity.  The International Year of the Elderly was 1999, and last week the International Day of the Elderly had taken place.  Those commemorations had helped in enhancing awareness about the incipient demographic revolution, and the challenges that the ageing population and the world as a whole would have to face in the new century.

MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said that since the Summit on Social Development had placed the primary responsibility for ensuring social development and human well-being on the shoulders of governments, Namibia had begun addressing social development core issues through establishing the required national mechanisms and programmes.  While his Government continued to make strenuous efforts to implement strategies and programmes of action, it was encountering mammoth obstacles.  As was the case for many developing countries, poverty remained not only the major obstacle to the realization of social development goals, but also the major cause of most social evils in Namibia.

There was a direct link between social development and economic development, he said.  It was difficult, if not impossible, to talk of social development without alluding to poverty and to economic development.  It was therefore no coincidence that the Secretary-General had recommended that the report on the social situation be read in conjunction with his report on the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.

Shortly after independence, Namibia had been classified by some financing institutions as a medium-income country, he said.  In some cases, this posed an obstacle when the Government tried to secure financial resources required to effectively implement and monitor the Poverty Reduction Action Strategy.  A recent survey in the country had concluded that 47 per cent of the population were relatively poor and 13 per cent were extremely poor.  This was testimony to the fact that the decision of Copenhagen +5 to halve extreme poverty by 2015 might not be attainable by all.

Furthermore, the HIV/AIDS pandemic had become a major threat to the achievement of social development, he said.  The scourge in Namibia was threatening and had, in fact, begun to reverse the social and economic gains that had been made so far.  It had become the most serious development challenge because it affected the economically-active section of Namibia's society.  The elders were not only left without caretakers, but now they had to become caregivers to the affected or orphaned children.

Namibia, like many other developing countries, was faced with the dilemma of coping with globalization, he continued.  It was understood that globalization had stimulated growth and prosperity and had expanded possibilities for millions of people in some parts of the world.  However, there was disappointment that that could not be said for people in Namibia's region.  Globalization had not only diminished prospects for economic growth, but also had reinforced inequalities and aggravated the marginalization of developing countries in the global economy.  His Government urged that the developing and the developed countries alike should seriously search for collective solutions to ensure that the benefits of globalization were truly global in nature and in action.

RANIA AL HAJ ALI (Syria), said the vital relationship between the consolidation of social development and protecting society from poverty, marginalization and other social ills required attention at both national and international levels.  Sadly, the number of commitments to those causes outstripped actual achievements, particularly in reversing the effects of globalization.  Indeed, developing countries, lacking the capacity to compete with the developed world’s market economy, were actually worse off than ever.  There appeared to be even less international cooperation on social development issues, particularly relating to debt relief and providing access to markets.

Syria’s Government, she continued, had drawn up measures and initiatives to protect low income families by providing economic assistance and, importantly, access to education.  Plans had also been made, in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to improve the level of nutrition and to eliminate poverty.  Civil servant salaries had also been increased.  The country’s constitution ensured equal opportunity for all, particularly in employment.  She added that Syria would continue to make every effort to ensure the success of the upcoming Assembly on Ageing.  Aware that much remained to be done, Syria was actively working with NGOs and civil society actors to ensure basic necessities were provided for all.

She said that issues of social development in her region could not be discussed without addressing Israel’s occupation of various territories and that country’s aggressive actions against Arab citizens.  Israel’s economic blockade had seriously impacted social development efforts in Syria and throughout the region.  The aftermath of the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights could also not be overlooked.  Requiring States, particularly developing countries, to implement commitments made in Copenhagen, should go hand in hand with a request to Israel to end its occupation of Arab territories.  That would create a climate of peace and security and allow the countries of the region to focus on achieving sustainable economic and social development.

MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela) said his Government had done a great deal to promote social development in the country.  His Government was committed to what was enshrined in the Copenhagen Action Programme, and it was necessary to review the goals that had been established since 1995.

Social development was the fulcrum of almost all his Government’s polices, he said, and education, health and social representation of Venezuelan citizens was always considered in domestic laws.  Micro-enterprises had been established that helped create jobs, and micro-credits had been extended to many people.  The result of all those initiatives had been a decline in the unemployment rate in the first part of 2001, and a decline in the size of the informal sector.

Young men and women had the right and duty to be active principals in his country’s development.  His Government had incorporated a network of social integration for young people, including programmes that focused on jobs for them, he said.  Young people who were deemed to be at high risk were given job training. People with disabilities or special needs were guaranteed all help necessary to realize their full potential.  They were helped in gaining access to the job market, and had special protection under the law.  The Venezuelan Government hoped to put people with disabilities on par with the rest of the population with regards to the job market.  Equal opportunity for people with disabilities largely consisted of access issues and education issues. 

His Government was also committed to improving education for all people in the country, he continued.  Teacher training and school structures had been improved.  Venezuela was ready to make up for its historic lag in the education system.  His Government had created the United Society Fund to optimize social programmes, to strengthen health and education, and to stimulate the economy.  Also created was the Micro-Finance Fund, and the Women's Development Bank.  The Sovereign People's Bank assisted established small and medium-sized enterprises.

JONES KYAZZE, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said literacy for all was not only an unaccomplished goal, but it was also an ever-moving target.  There had been progress, but it had been very uneven.  In most of the world, educational opportunities for children were increasing and opportunities for youth and adults were becoming more available and diverse.  While illiteracy had been reduced to about 20 per cent worldwide since 1990, eastern and southern Asia still hosted some 71 per cent of the world's illiterates.  Illiteracy rates in Africa and Latin America averaged about

40 per cent, and much higher in some parts.  However, the most basic forms of illiteracy were concentrated among the poorest of the poor and those with the fewest opportunities.  The majorities were women.  In some countries, up to

twothirds of adult illiterates were women.  In the same connection, issues of culture, ethnicity, and legal status continued to hinder progress on the literacy path in some cases.  It had to be remembered that there were still 875 million illiterate youth and adults, and 113 million children still out of school.  That was unacceptable.

The United Nations Literacy Decade was to provide a framework for generating renewed momentum towards literacy for all and for developing a new vision of literacy that embraced not only the learning needs of adults, but also those of children and youth.  Within this vision, there was a clear recognition that solutions for different educational problems were interconnected, he said.  Thus, "Education for All" and "Literacy for All", along with "Universal Primary Education" and "Lifelong Learning", were not competing slogans, but instead processes whose goals had to be pursued simultaneously and whose dynamics were closely linked.  In this connection, there should be reference to the Millennium Declaration, which aimed to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere would be

able to complete a full course of primary schooling, and that all children would have access to all levels of education.

ROBERT HOLTZMANN, Director of Social Protection, World Bank, said social protection was back on the international agenda.  The global community’s current emphasis on social protection’s key role in efforts to reduce poverty by providing income security for vulnerable people had been reaffirmed in the Millennium Summit and Declaration.  At the same time, it was now important to be forward-looking -- to examine how poor people lived with risk and how governments prepared for crises, particularly the provision of social safety nets or putting in place mechanisms aimed at heading off social disasters before they struck.

Among the more important developments responsible for that outlook was the realization that growth must be balanced with social policy measures, he continued.  The forward-looking approach also contributed to sustainable poverty reduction, mirroring the international community’s new understanding of poverty dynamics and economic mobility in developing countries.  Solutions required close public and private partnership, since governments would not always have the financial capacity to provide risk management.  Workable solutions must also put the family first as well as ensure the active participation of non-governmental organizations, trade unions and other civil society actors.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.