Population Issues Are Critical to Meeting Development Goals, Asia and Pacific Experts Reaffirm

Reproductive health, gender equality and policies addressing population concerns remain central to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific, regional specialists agreed here this week.

Reviewing plans adopted at the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference (APPC) in Bangkok in 2002, a three-day experts meeting concluded that the steps proposed in the Fifth APPC Plan of Action on Population and Poverty are needed more than ever in light of the global economic crisis and its likely impact on the poor.

The 2002 recommendations were based on the Programme of Action adopted by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The expert meeting proposed an Asia-Pacific conference be held later this year to assess regional progress in the 15 years since the ICPD, as part of a global review process.

“The strategies and actions planned to achieve the population goals are crucial for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” Ms. Thelma Kay, Director of the Social Development Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told the meeting.

“The goals are too important and their implications too far-reaching for the well-being of humanity to be disputed or neglected – especially now that the global economic crisis threatens to unravel much of the progress accomplished,” Ms. Kay added.

“It is the shared vision of ICPD, the MDGs and the Fifth APPC that has brought us together for a joint review, to identify gaps and suggest mid-course corrective actions,” said Mr. G. Giridhar, Special Adviser in the Asia-Pacific Regional Office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “Evidence-based advocacy and partnerships are essential in this process.”

The percentage of Asians living in poverty has fallen significantly in the past two decades but uneven progress has left many behind, especially in South Asia. Each year in the region, a quarter of a million women, mostly poor, die as a result of persistent gaps in maternal health services.

In presentations, experts from academia, non-governmental organizations, governments and international organizations highlighted these and other challenges in areas addressed by the 2002 Plan of Action, including: population and poverty; HIV/AIDS; women’s empowerment; adolescent reproductive health; sustainable development; international migration; urbanization; and population ageing due to declining fertility.

Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pacific island countries, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam reported on national progress.

The expert meeting, convened by the ESCAP in collaboration with UNFPA, called for the integration of population concerns and women’s empowerment in the broader development agenda. Participants proposed a variety of responses to the needs identified in their discussions.

Health systems must be strengthened, for example, to ensure universal access to reproductive health services including family planning, with no discrimination against adolescents. HIV prevention efforts need to reach groups most at risk of infection. More resources and better data are needed to address gender inequality and marginalized populations. Older persons need viable social security systems and opportunities to stay in the workforce.

The Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference was the latest of a series of ministerial regional population conferences organized by ESCAP once every ten years.