Statement at the Launch of HelpAge International's State of the World's Older People

08 Apr 2002

Thank you for this opportunity to participate in this event for the launch of HelpAge International’s publication, ‘State of the World’s Older People’.

UNFPA would like to congratulate HelpAge International for the exceptional work that they are doing in the area of ageing at both the programming and policy level. The State of the World’s Older People makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of national and international efforts in the area of ageing.

Population ageing is an inevitable consequence of the demographic transition – that is the shift from high to low birth and death rates. It is taking place at a much faster pace in developing countries, than was the case with developed countries, simply because of their faster pace of fertility decline. This in turn is closely linked to the past success of reproductive health programmes and family planning. Today women in the developing world are choosing to have half as many children as they did 50 years ago.

And people are living longer. Today two thirds of persons aged 60 years and over, approximately 374 million, live in developing countries, compared with around 231 million in more developed countries. By 2020, the number of older persons in developing countries is projected to nearly double to 706 million and rise to 317 million in the wealthy, industrial countries.

In supporting government efforts to meet the challenges of population ageing, the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, seeks to work in partnerships, especially with the United Nations system, and international and national non-governmental organizations. UNFPA and HelpAge International have been working together in some developing countries and the Fund would like to build on this partnership, to ensure that population ageing is central to the poverty eradication agenda and that national and international work centered on the Millennium development goals directly benefits the growing numbers of the older poor.

UNFPA’s work in the area of population ageing is guided by the Programme of Action that was agreed upon by the world’s governments at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the recommendations of the ICPD+5 review, and the goals of the Millennium Declaration. The Fund is a strong advocate for mainstreaming ageing issues into the development agenda, with a particular focus on the needs of the older poor and excluded, especially women.

Meeting the basic needs of older persons is crucial to achieving progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. Many of the 400 million older persons living in developing countries are below the poverty line. Hence meeting this target requires that poverty reduction strategies and programmes must increase their focus on the poorest and most vulnerable older persons, especially women.

Poverty experience in childhood and adulthood is likely to deepen with age. Older people who have experienced a lifetime of poor diet, multiple pregnancies, inadequate reproductive health care and arduous physical labour are likely to enter old age in ill health. The inevitable physical decline brought on by ageing reduces each person’s ability to contribute to the household and to remain economically self-sufficient. This dynamic forms a vicious cycle, since for many older people their physical health is the only significant asset they have to protect themselves from destitution.

At this time, there is a need to facilitate positive action by NGOs, communities and the private sector. Policy dialogues can help bring different stakeholders together and provide a basis for joint action. And the needs, and voices, of the older poor need to be reflected in country-level programming instruments, such as Common Country Assessments (CCAs) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), so that issues relating to older people are mainstreamed in development efforts.

The United Nations system can play a major role in advancing the International Strategy for Action on Ageing by facilitating policy dialogues, supporting capacity building and by mobilizing resources to support country-led programmes that address the needs of older persons. I am pleased to announce that UNFPA, in partnership with the UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs and the School of Public Health of New York’s Columbia University is about to launch a new international programme on capacity building and policy development on population ageing in developing countries.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, human rights, sustainable human development and poverty eradication programmes must be developed, designed and monitored at all levels with older people playing an active role. This way we can progress towards a society for all ages and achieve greater solidarity between the young and old generations.

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