Statement by Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries,
Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States
at the
High Level Policy-Makers’ Symposium on South to South Collaboration:
“ICPD Revisited”
Session One
“Achievements and Challenges: Ten Years after Cairo”
UN House, Tokyo
13 September 2004

Madame Chair,

Distinguished speakers and participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by extending my warm greetings to all of you and by thanking our chair, my colleague Kiyoko Ikegami, who represents UNFPA in Japan, for her very pertinent introduction and kind words. I express my deep appreciation to NPO 2050 and its chairman Kit Kitatani for having organized this high level symposium.

Cairo was a turning point, the beginning of a new era in the population field.

It changed the way we think about population programmes, from demographic targets and control to a rights-based approach that puts people first. The ground-breaking Programme of Action recognized that if we are to stabilize the world’s population growth, reduce poverty and promote sustainable development, we must address straight on the health of children and their mothers, including their reproductive rights, and gender equity and equality.

Cairo taught us that only by addressing the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable groups, by empowering women and by increasing the involvement of all segments of civil society in the development process will the countries of the world be able to achieve a fair balance between demographic changes, poverty reduction and protection of the environment. Population and development strategies are therefore inseparable.

Five years after Cairo, in 1999, the principles of the ICPD Programme were reconfirmed, and a set of key actions were identified as crucial to further the implementation of the Cairo agreement. These actions paid special attention to adolescents and to stopping the spread of the ravaging HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Ten years later, we can say that significant progress has been achieved.

As stated by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “The decade following the adoption of the Programme of Action has been one of substantial progress. The world is beginning to see the end of rapid population growth, couples are closer to achieving their desired family size and spacing of children, mortality is declining in most countries, and there is evidence that many countries are taking the necessary steps to confront HIV/AIDS and other mortality crises, and Governments are initiating processes to address concerns related to international migration.”

Marking the tenth anniversary of the Cairo Conference, this year 2004 has witnessed numerous gatherings of policy-makers and experts around the globe commemorating that watershed event, reconfirming the unaltered value of its Programme of Action as an essential contribution towards achieving the world’s development goals, taking stock of the progress made so far, and assessing the way forward for the next decade.

The focus of any assessment of the achievements and shortcomings in the ICPD implementation has to be, first and foremost, at the national level. The goals of the Programme of Action belong to the people, to each woman, child and man and it is every national government’s responsibility to make sure that all of the various dimensions of population issues are given high priority in the formulation of their social and economic development policies.

A recently released UNFPA Report entitled “Investing in People” reviews both progress and constraints in the operational ICPD implementation. It presents the results of a Global Survey carried out last year that investigated efforts under all of the specific actions called for by the Programme of Action and ICPD+5. The review has shown that a great number of countries have made remarkable strides at the policy, operational and programmatic levels. When provided with family planning, education and other critical health services, individuals are empowered to do what is best for themselves and for their families.
Although progress remains uneven across regions and countries, there is no arguing that, overall, prospects for girls born today in Africa or Asia are much better than they were ten years ago. School enrolment rates are increasing, mortality rates declining and life expectancy is rising.

Regional level reviews have taken place in Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Americas and more recently in Africa. UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Kunio Waki covered these in his keynote presentation earlier this morning.

In June this year, African Ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to redoubling their efforts to promote and strengthen universal access to quality and comprehensive reproductive health care information and services, intensify their fight against HIV/AIDS and empower women. Similar strong reaffirmations also came out of the regions of the Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the ten-year review of Cairo.

While government action is critical in order to fully mainstream population issues in their poverty eradication strategies and institutionalize good practices and programmes, civil society at the community level has an enormous role to play. There is increasing evidence of public-private partnerships, non-government organizations and voluntary agencies, succeeding everyday, even with meagre resources, in expanding public health services, raising awareness, and improving the lives of poor and young women.

I would like to cite just one small example. In Mali, in the small town of Zegoua (with a population of 22,000), since January 2002, there has not been a single case of neonatal or maternal mortality. The secret of its success in reducing neonatal and maternal mortality lies in the determination of the village’s women to tackle pregnancy-related problems. They have formed groups that plant cotton, rice and peanuts and a share of the revenues from these crops is used to pay for consultations to check the health of mothers and newborns and to discuss family planning issues. In this way, this small Malian town may already claim to have achieved one of the MDGs! It has also shown how effective community level action could be in contributing to the realization of the MDGs.

According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, “we will go a great way in solving the world’s population problems by educating women and making sure they have employment”.

Girls, in particular, are the most vulnerable: 62 per cent of young people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are female. Misconceptions are still widespread. AIDS has orphaned more than 14 million children, many of whom become homeless and live on the street. It is our responsibility to make sure that these young people obtain the knowledge and learn how to protect themselves.

Madame Chair,

Sustained and increased investment in sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries promises tremendous benefits to women, families and societies at large. While it is heartening to see that, increasingly, developing countries are pulling their own resources into the implementation of such programmes, support from developed countries unfortunately has fallen short of commitments made in Cairo.

Commitments must be redeemed in order to allow the world to invest in its most precious resources – women, men and children – thus ensure a brighter future for our planet.

I thank you.


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