Statement of Executive Director to the Commission on Population and Development

11 April 2016

Remarks of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin to the 49th session of the Commission on Population and Development on strengthening the demographic evidence base for achieving the ICPD beyond 2014 and SDGs.

Mr. Secretary-General,
Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,              
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning! It is a pleasure to address this 49th Session of the Commission on Population and Development.

I would like to thank Ambassador Mwaba Kasese-Bota and the Commission for their work in preparing for this session.

Let me also thank Under-Secretary-General Wu and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ for their partnership with UNFPA in supporting the work of the Commission.

The world is deeply dependent on the community assembled in this room – more so than it knows. We are faced with a huge challenge, put to us by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN Statistics Commission has agreed on 230 indicators to measure progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda and its critical aspirations for human well-being and the survival of the planet. At least half of these indicators depend directly on demographic data.

So the commitment of this community to strengthen the evidence base for sustainable development is crucial.

Leaving no one behind

The 2030 Agenda is built on the assumption that every country will be able to identify and locate the most vulnerable people, identify interventions that result in the greatest improvements in their welfare, and monitor progress over a wide array of goals and targets.

This work is at the heart of ensuring that no one is left behind. It is key to reaching those furthest behind first.  These same aims echo the recommendations of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, the Key Actions for its further implementation in 1999, and the Framework of Actions for the follow up to the ICPD beyond 2014.

Each of these documents crafts a vision of sustainable development based on the achievement of universal human rights and equality, of universal access to health, including sexual and reproductive health, of non-discrimination that embraces gender equality and women’s empowerment, of quality education, security of place, economic opportunity, and the dignity of all persons.

Yet, in far too many countries, redressing population inequalities and measuring progress towards sustainable development is constrained by a lack of core population data, by weak data systems, and under-developed capacity to use such data for development.

Building up and sustaining core population data requires strengthening both census and civil registration and vital statistics.

Information on births and deaths enables countries to confer and guarantee citizenship, and to plan public infrastructure development and the delivery of health and education services.  

Civil registration is essential for the protection and exercise of human rights. The right to be counted is fundamental to social inclusion.

CRVS systems ensure that countries can plan effective public health policies, measure the impact of health programmes, proactively respond to epidemics and halt the spread of disease.

We need to significantly increase our investments in civil registration and vital statistics. But the pace of expansion in CRVS has increased enormously, and the goal of universal coverage is reachable.

It took two centuries for Europe to ensure universal coverage, but it has taken South Africa just over two decades to achieve 95 percent coverage. 

But even with a powerful demographic evidence base built on better census, civil registration and other data, we will still need to develop better ways to reach those who have historically gone uncounted – the young child living in a remote community cut off from access to birth registration… the person who dies unattended and undiagnosed… refugees, undocumented migrants, and those displaced by war or environmental crises… the homeless… or slum dwellers.

Advances in Big Data hold huge potential. Satellite imagery and call detail records can be used for real time analysis and estimation of those on the move, or in difficult-to-reach areas or humanitarian crises. 

But these approaches still need a strong demographic evidence base for cross-checking estimations. We need to embrace innovations and developments in Big Data and integrate them into the world’s growing data ecosystems.

From production to use

We know, from long experience, however, that improving data collection alone is not sufficient.

UNFPA’s extensive evaluation of the 2010 round of censuses revealed that growing support for the collection of census data, and even measurable improvements in dissemination, have not been matched by growing use.

Much more could have been done with geographic information systems, mapping and spatial analysis to find and support vulnerable populations, especially in developing countries.

Many countries are even failing to fully use census data as a planning tool for schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure.

These shortfalls reflect a lack of trained human capital. How ironic that this coincides with the problem of underemployment and poverty. 

The growing demand for higher education across the world speaks to the potential for an education revolution – and that will be needed to ensure that national data institutions and capacity can fulfill the aspirations and ambitions of the ICPD and the 2030 Agendas. 

The ICPD Programme of Action recognized the centrality of education for development. The 2030 Agenda does so as well, setting targets for universal primary and secondary education.  But we need to go further. In today’s dynamic global economy, tertiary education is essential.

The demographic dividends experienced by the so-called Asian “Tiger” economies during the second half of the 21st century reflected extraordinary growth in the scale and quality of education, often within a generation. This contributed to an acceleration in overall development. 

We need a revolution not only in national data systems in developing countries but in education systems, so that the coming generation of young people – girls and boys alike – will leap-frog beyond the opportunities of their parents. 

We need to ensure that they become the next generation of population and data experts – ideally with the integrated, human-rights based vision of sustainable development found in the ICPD and the 2030 Agenda.

Raising the political priority of the demographic evidence base

Right now, the world’s attention is on data, driven by the important process of generating an indicator framework for the SDGs, but also by the amazing technological advances in Big Data.

We welcome this attention. We need it. Stronger data systems are urgently required not only for countries to measure the Agenda 2030 indicators, but for the fulfilment of the vision and values of the ICPD Programme of Action.  

Which brings me to national ownership and the definition of national success.  Success will be measured by whether or not the institutions and data professionals in government, academia, the private sector and civil society collectively advance the empowerment of the vulnerable, especially women and girls. Success will be measured by whether they expand the opportunities and capacity of every young person and uphold the dignity and human rights of all people.

Let us leave this Commission with a strong resolution to strengthen the data systems of our respective countries, and to use those systems to respond to the yearnings of those furthest behind for a better life.

By doing so, we will ensure that all of us advance down the path we began in Cairo in 1994, the path to a more sustainable, prosperous, inclusive future – together.

I look forward to travelling that path with you and to a productive week to come.

Thank you.