UN House, Tokyo, 13 September 2004

Mr. Chairman,
Honourable Member of the Diet, Madame Komiyama,
Dear colleague Kunio Waki,
Gaimusho Deputy Director General Kodama
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank NPO 2050 Chairman Kit Kitatani for inviting me to participate in this annual High Level Symposium for policy-makers on south to south collaboration, organized in cooperation with UNDP and the Partners in Population and Development.

It is a special privilege to address all of you today, not only because it is the fourth time I come to Tokyo to participate in this symposium, but also because the subject of this year’s gathering – “ICPD revisited” – is very timely and relevant. We had just now a wonderful speech by Madame Yoko Komiyama setting the focus of this High Level Symposium. The programme of the Symposium appropriately addresses all of the key aspects of this comprehensive theme, ranging from reproductive health and rights to women’s empowerment, aging, migration and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to taking stock of the progress made so far in the implementation of the ICPD goals and assessing the challenges ahead.

We will have an opportunity to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Cairo Conference and its Programme of Action here during this High Level Symposium on Wednesday afternoon, during a dedicated special interactive session. This precedes by a few weeks, the formal commemoration of Cairo on 14th October 2004 in New York by the United Nations General Assembly, which officially opens its 59th session tomorrow.

Ten years ago, in September 1994, the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development drew 179 country delegations to the Egyptian capital. Close to 11,000 people attended, including government delegations, U.N. agencies, inter-governmental groups, parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations and the media, making it the largest conference on population and development ever held. Participants enthusiastically agreed on a global, forward-looking, 20-year Programme of Action that sets priorities and time-bound goals to guide national-level policy making and targeted action.

There is no doubt that Cairo was a landmark event. Firstly, it had the great merit of putting human beings at the heart of concerns for sustainable development as the most important and valuable resource of any nation. Secondly, for the first time, it declared that women must be the centre of our efforts to address population issues, correctly identifying reproductive health not just as relevant to family planning but as women’s right.

It is essential to recognize that the ICPD Programme of Action is not just a set of goals. It lays forth a road map of practical policy and programmatic actions, the routes to follow to reach each of the goals. In 1999 the international community gathered during a special session of the UN General Assembly (known as ICPD+5) to review progress towards implementing the ICPD goals and keep the momentum high. As Ambassador of my country, Bangladesh, it was a great honour for me to chair that five-year review exercise, which led to the adoption, by consensus, of the Key Actions for the Further Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. The Key Actions focused in four priority areas: education and literacy, reproductive health care and unmet need for contraception, maternal mortality reduction and HIV/AIDS.

From a broader perspective, the Programme of Action and the Key Actions for its further implementation recognized the inextricable links between the many dimensions of population issues and the global fight against poverty and hunger. Population, reproductive health, maternal mortality, education and environmental sustainability represent critical determinants as we make our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

The population and socio-economic development relationship has been widely recognized as an extremely complex one. There is not one global trend in population growth or development.

While the world’s population is growing substantially every year, the pace of growth varies dramatically from one region to another and each case is obviously associated with its own, peculiar, set of social, economic, political and environmental challenges.

Rapid population growth is registered particularly among the group of the fifty countries where the vast majority of people live in extreme poverty and that are classified by the United Nations as least developed. The combined population of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is expected to nearly triple between 2000 and 2050, rising from 658 million to 1.8 billion.

By mid century, nearly 90 per cent of world population is expected to be living in the developing nations. Many of these countries are definitely the least able to absorb large increments of people that in turn threaten sustainable development and produce further deterioration in levels of living and quality of life.

In the context of sustainability of the world’s resource base, the environmental implications of growing population remain far-reaching for the most vulnerable countries primarily dependent on agriculture, and particularly where water is already scarce and where land degradation and deforestation are most severe. The combination of poverty, population pressures and environmental degradation is a powerful destabilizing factor driving both rural out-migration and international migration.

But at the core, as the World Watch Institute said in its 2003 Report, it is gender inequity that tends to contribute to population growth and population increases tend to put pressure on the natural environment, including biological resources.

Fast-growing populations are shrinking cropland area per person where countries can no longer produce enough to feed themselves. This brings in the risk of heavy future dependence on food imports. Shrinking grain land has also implications for peace and security issues. A headline few years ago from the Pan African News Agency read: “Rwanda: Land Scarcity May Jeopardize Peace Process”. With its 8.1 million population and average family having six children, pressure on land in Rwanda, and therefore, in all its neighbours, is a cause of concern.

All these will add to global migration that is expected to increase both in volume and impact in coming years. For this reason, this issue has become the focus of growing attention as a global challenge to international policy makers and will be the theme for the 2006 session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development. Next year’s session, instead, will be very appropriately dedicated to “Population, development and HIV/AIDS, with particular emphasis on poverty”. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has provided leadership in addressing international migration in various forums, actively encouraging dialogue and interaction on the issue in its many dimensions.

HIV/AIDS possibly represents the deadliest epidemic in human history. According to UNAIDS, more than 20 million people have already died of AIDS and most of the 38 million infected people are likely to die prematurely. About 95 per cent of those living with HIV/AIDS are in developing countries. Indicators of human development are slipping as the disease ruins families, communities, economies and health systems in heavily affected countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit region, but serious HIV epidemics are also emerging elsewhere. The Caribbean has the second-highest adult prevalence in the world. At the same time, many countries in Asia are also experiencing rising HIV prevalence. Anywhere AIDS is present amongst large numbers, the economy and social fabric of the community is in tatters, due to loss of women and men in their most productive years and dramatic rise in the number of orphans. The International Labour Organization has estimated that the AIDS epidemic lowered the world’s gross domestic product by US$25 billion a year between 1992 and 2002.

The challenge is to achieve a favourable balance between population and available resources. In order to do so it is imperative to ensure that population, environment, and poverty eradication factors are fully integrated in sustainable development policies, programmes and actions.

The challenges faced by the Least Developed Countries are extremely serious and demand our utmost attention. In the last ten years, while globally the average annual rate of population growth has decreased, the LDCs’ growth rate has remained very high at 2.4 per cent. Despite the ravages of HIV/AIDS, other diseases and conflicts, Africa, the continent that hosts 34 out of the 50 LDCs, is the fastest growing region and will add approximately a billion people to its population by 2050.

As envisaged in the ICPD Programme of Action, a much slower rate of growth is to be achieved, especially in the neediest areas of the globe, in order to allow more time to attack and eradicate poverty and hunger, while protecting the environment and building the base for sustainable economic and human development.

Fully recognizing the “dragging” effect of rapid population growth upon social and economic development efforts, the Brussels Programme of Action adopted in May 2001 for the development of the LDCs during the present decade devoted a whole section to the “population” issues under its commitment entitled: “Building human and institutional capacities”. The Brussels plan reconfirms the ICPD goals and fine-tunes them to the special circumstances and demographic trends in the LDCs, making sure that such fundamental issues are fully integrated in the development policies and poverty eradication strategies of these countries.

National action needs to be continuously and reliably supported by international cooperation. A world that spends almost a trillion dollars a year on the military can definitely afford to mobilize the financial resources that are needed to close the funding gaps for building successful programmes, building capacity to implement those programmes and sustaining crucial partnerships among all different actors, including civil society, advocacy groups, professional organizations, media, parliamentarians and the United Nations system.

Continued and increased efforts are needed to ensure critical reproductive rights of women and girls around the globe. Their conditions, characterized by lack of a secure base, whether in education, information, health, equity and resources must remain our first concern. I feel very confident when I say that empowering women as full partners in sustainable economic and social development is the surest strategy to combat poverty, environmental degradation and achieving harmony and peace in human condition at the global scale.

The international community knows very well what needs to be done. Today, after 10 years, we can safely say that the Cairo agenda has not remained a paper promise. It has indeed turned into concrete initiatives, policies, laws and programmes that are implemented around the world and are truly making a difference in the everyday lives of millions of people. While numerous steps forward have been made towards meeting many of the ICPD goals, progress has been very uneven. This calls for redoubling our commitment to positive actions in all of the areas identified at Cairo. I look forward to having substantial and provoking discussions during this Symposium with a view to building upon the achievements of the last decade and make that further leap ahead towards full implementation of Cairo.


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