Introductory Statement by Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury
United Nations Under-Secetary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries,
Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

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at the
International Forum on Population and Development
Implementation of ICPD Programme of Action and the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

First Thematic Session: Poverty Alleviation
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Wuhan, Hubei Province, China
7 September 2004

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Holding this International Forum on Population and Development in China is very timely and relevant since it marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark United Nations conference in Cairo and its forward-looking 20-year Programme of Action. It also takes place few weeks before the commemoration of that occasion by the United Nations General Assembly scheduled during its 59th session, on 14th October 2004, in New York. We are also observing the founding of the Partners for Population and Development.

Taking place at the mid-point of the 20-year plan, this meeting is an important opportunity to analyse achievements, constraints and lessons learned and strengthen our commitment towards full implementation of the goals of the Cairo Programme of Action.

I would like to thank wholeheartedly the Government of China for hosting this Forum in Wuhan, in this wonderful location near the Yangtze River and express our warm appreciation to the Partners for Population and Development (PPD), under the committed leadership of Timothee Gandaho, for joining the Government in making the excellent arrangements. Let me add here that this collaboration and my presence here have a very special personal significance. In 1983, as the first Chairman of the UN Population Award Committee, I was closely involved in the selection of the then Chinese Minister Qian Xinzhong as the first co-winner of the Award. And, in 2001, as the Ambassador of Bangladesh, I had proposed that the PPD be accorded observer status by the UN General Assembly. So, chairing this first panel today is a very significant occasion for me.

The Partners and my Office in the United Nations, which is entrusted with the responsibility for the most vulnerable countries of the world, have consolidated their close cooperation in the very first year of opening of the PPD representation to the United Nations in New York, headed by Jyoti Singh who is one of the discussants in this panel. In particular, with a view to promoting dialogue and interaction among relevant stakeholders, particularly among the representatives of the Least Developed Countries and of their development partners, on pressing human development issues, a series of four symposia were jointly organized by our two organizations last autumn on the broad theme of Population and the Millennium Development Goals.

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was a watershed event that provided the international community with a concrete and detailed plan to move ahead with regard to a crucial element of any development effort: population. Cairo gave us a new, comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Conference put human beings at the heart of concerns for sustainable development as the most important and valuable resource of any nation. And, for the first time, the global community declared that women must be the centre of our efforts to address reproductive health, population and development issues.

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 steady. As Bangladesh’s Ambassador to the United Nations, it was a great honour for me to chair that five-year review exercise that led to the adoption, by consensus, of the Key Actions for the Further Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. The Key Actions provided a new set of benchmarks in four priority areas: education and literacy, reproductive health care and unmet need for contraception, maternal mortality reduction and HIV/AIDS.


The Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000 reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable development for all. Through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) renewed attention has been given to many of the central ICPD concerns, such as universal access to education and reproductive health care that constitute crucial steps for eradication of poverty.

As a matter of fact, 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 and reproductive health and rights are critical determinants of the MDGs. It is very well documented that population trends have a significant impact on every aspect of social and economic development. Simply put, poverty cannot and will not be eradicated without the achievement of the ICPD goals.

Today, after 10 years we can safely say that that the Cairo agenda has not remained a paper promise. It has indeed been 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 many steps forward have been taken towards meeting many of the ICPD goals, progress has been very uneven.

The world’s population is growing substantially every year, but the pace of growth varies dramatically from one region to another. In 2004 the world’s population is nearly 800 million larger than it was ten years ago and, what is most significant, is that 95 per cent of that population increase occurred in the poorest regions. By 2050, nearly 90 per cent of world population is expected to be living in developing nations.

Population dynamics and demographic structures play a critical role in human progress. While aging populations would cause future population to decline, young and rapidly growing populations, more urbanized, in most countries will add to the social, economic and political challenges.

Global migration will increase both in volume and impact. This latter issue is the focus of growing attention as a global challenge and will be the theme for the thirty-ninth session of the Commission on Population and Development in 2006. Next year’s session of the Commission will be dedicated to “Population, development and HIV/AIDS, with particular emphasis on poverty”.

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 prevalent in the world. At the same time, many countries in Asia are experiencing rising HIV prevalence. Anywhere AIDS is present in large numbers, the economy and social fabric of the community is deteriorating, 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 25 billion US$ a year between 1992 and 2002.

This general picture presents even more staggering features when we take into consideration the enormous development efforts that are being undertaken by the most vulnerable countries of the world, the fifty Least Developed Countries, and how the unprecedented population explosion and prevailing lack of progress in the related areas of reproduction health and rights, education, empowerment of women, continue to have serious impact on the attempts by these struggling nations to achieve the MDGs.

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

As recommended by the Cairo 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 these countries’ development policies and poverty eradication strategies.

National action needs to receive adequate, reliable and continuing support 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, of course, the United Nations system.

The various issues that I have briefly outlined in my remarks as chair of the opening thematic session have been suitably identified for more in-depth analysis in our Forum as envisaged during the eight thematic discussions. Without diminishing the importance of all other areas, I would like to draw your attention to two issues of special concern: (1) the continuing challenge of addressing the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, and (2) the challenge of implementing effective programmes for girls’ education. I believe very strongly that substantive progress in these two areas will empower us most effectively to implement the goals and objectives of the ICPD.

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I would now like to introduce the keynote speaker of our session on poverty eradication, Dr. Angang Hu.

The keynote address will then be followed by a discussion on country experiences in the implementation of the Cairo Programme, led by Mr Jyoti Singh and Dr. Josephine B. Moyo.

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