Press Releases

    POP/800
    9 April 2001

    "CULTURE MATTERS" – AT HEART OF POPULATION AND DEVELOPMENT ATTITUDES, COMMISSION ON
    POPULATION AND DEVELOPMENT TOLD

    NEW YORK, 6 April (UN Headquarters) -- One of the immediate challenges facing the United Nations specialized agencies and the broader international community was to grasp the true nature of the economic, social and cultural links between population and development in general, and reproductive health and development in particular, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) told the thirty-fourth session of the Commission on Population and Development this morning.

    "Culture matters," stated Thoraya Obaid, referring to a statement made earlier in the session. Indeed, cultural perspectives were at the heart of any country’s attitudes and behavioural patterns regarding population and development issues. That was particularly true of the ways in which various communities dealt with the persistent and complex impacts of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

    She stressed that at the heart of the Fund’s consideration of the global demographic situation was the issue of choices; that women, in partnership with men, could make their own family decisions, particularly regarding the number and spacing of children. A deeper appreciation of those choices, which had an impact on population size and structure, revealed the intrinsic relationship between the demographic and reproductive health aspects of population and development.

    Also addressing the Commission this morning, Martin Belinga-Eboutou (Cameroon), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that he was gratified by the way in which the Commission had emphasized the priority issue of population, environment and development. The huge strain placed on the environment by population pressures was a vital issue for all countries. Indeed, it was crucial to take that linkage into account in the elaboration of national development policies in order to secure sustainable development and a sound environment for all.

    An important issue to the Council was the coordination of the Commission’s work with that of the functional commissions, which was significant in developing sound policies. The briefings given by representatives of other agencies during the Commission’s session, particularly those by the regional commissions, were one example of that.

    The Commission’s work, he added, was a valuable contribution to the important conferences which would take place, such as the General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS and the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries. Population matters had an impact on all aspects of development. They were multi-sectoral in nature and required a multidisciplinary approach.

    A subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, the Commission is charged with studying and advising the Council on population changes and their effect on economic and social conditions. Following the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), it was decided that the Commission would meet annually, beginning in 1996, to assess implementation of the Cairo Conference’s Programme of Action. The current session is the second since the General Assembly held a five-year high level review in July 1999.

    The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. today to take action on all outstanding issues and close its current session.

    Background

    When the thirty-fourth session of the Commission on Population and Development met this morning, it was expected to hear addresses by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Martin Belinga-Eboutou, and the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Obaid. The current session’s focus is on the link between population, environment and development. (For background, see Press Release POP/792 issued on 30 March.)

    Statements

    MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU (Cameroon), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that he was gratified by the way in which the Commission had emphasized a priority issue -- population, environment and development. The huge strain placed on the environment by population pressures was a vital issue for all countries. Indeed, it was crucial to take that linkage into account in the elaboration of national development policies, in order to secure sustainable development and a sound environment for all. He welcomed the excellence of the Commission’s work.

    He raised two issues of importance to the Council. The first was the question of coordination of the Commission’s work with that of the functional commissions, which was significant in developing sound policies. The second issue was that of the contribution the Council was expected to receive from the activities of the Commission. He was satisfied to note a number of initiatives taken by the Commission. For example, in the report on world population monitoring, various sections were included that had been prepared by relevant divisions of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and such organizations as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Another example of coordination was the briefings given by representatives of other agencies at the Commission’s session, particularly those by the regional commissions.

    On the preparation of the Council’s annual substantive session, he said that the high-level segment would be devoted to Africa and the United Nations. The segment would assess the role of the United Nations system in supporting the endeavours of Africa to achieve sustainable development. He appreciated the Commission’s contribution to the preparation of the annual session and the high-level segment. The studies of HIV/AIDS in African countries, the population projections drawn up by the Population Division and the fact that thinking had been focused on the impact of HIV/AIDS on African countries were of tremendous importance.

    Moreover, he welcomed the large number of cross-cutting issues related to population and development, which had been addressed in the Commission. The Commission’s work was a valuable contribution to the important conferences that would take place, such as the special session on HIV/AIDS and the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries. Population matters had an impact on all aspects of development. They were multi-sectoral in nature and required a multidisciplinary approach.

    THORAYA AHMED OBAID, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in her first address before the Commission, pledged her agency’s full cooperation with every Member State to ensure the implementation of the goals and recommendations of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), set at Cairo. She would especially work to strengthen the Fund’s partnership with the United Nations Population Division in order to take advantage of the expertise of both bodies in addressing population and development issues. One of the immediate long-term challenges facing the specialized agencies of the United Nations system and the broader international community was to grasp the true nature of the economic, social and cultural links between population and development in general, and reproductive health and development in particular.

    "Culture matters", she continued, referring to a statement made earlier in the session. Indeed, cultural perspectives were at the heart of any country’s attitudes and behavioural patterns regarding population and development issues. That was particularly true of the ways in which various communities dealt with the persistent and complex impacts of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She added that, unfortunately, there were many more challenges facing the international development community. Along with the spread of HIV/AIDS, statistics had shown that poverty was on the rise and, generally, millions of human beings, including a disproportionate number of women, were unable to exercise very basic economic, social and cultural rights. In light of that, she welcomed the continued mainstreaming of the ICPD Plan of Action into the global development agenda, as well as world leaders’ reaffirmation of support for the principles of sustainable development and broad poverty reduction at last year’s Millennium Summit.

    She went on to say that the UNFPA’s programmes emphasized reproductive health and information services for all, including quality family planning and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Most importantly, those programmes took into account each country’s development priorities and special needs, including social and cultural habits. She stressed that at the heart of all the Fund’s consideration of the worlds’ demographic situation was the issue of choices; that women, in partnership with men, could make their own family decisions, particularly regarding the number and spacing of children.

    Obviously, she added, such choices had an impact on population size and structure. A deeper appreciation of those choices made clear the intrinsic relationship between the demographic and reproductive health aspects of population and development. The Fund would continue to explore the interrelation of those important development factors and use its findings to assist world governments in their efforts to stabilize population growth and improve economic and social conditions for their respective populations.

    The Fund served as task manager for demographic dynamics and the sustainable development aspects of the follow-up process to Agenda 21, she continued. To that end, she welcomed the Commission’s decision to focus its deliberations during the current session on population, environment and development. She noted that during the week, delegations had shared national experiences and lessons learned in those areas. The discussions had reflected a wide range of actions taken to meet the challenges posed by the nexus of population, environment and development issues. It was clear that much remained to be done, and the number of problem areas was sure to increase, as predictions showed the world population increasing by perhaps three billion people by mid-century. Indeed, such rapid population growth should be seen as a global challenge, requiring action on the part of both developed and developing nations. The international community must direct its efforts at protecting the environment, while improving the quality of life for all.

    She said that earlier this week the Fund had presented the report on the flow of international resources for assisting the implementation of the ICPD plan of action. That report found that the lack of resources remained one of the major obstacles to achieving implementation of the plan. To that end, she welcomed the European Union’s reaffirmation of the commitment of its member States to reach the target of 0.7 per cent gross national product for overseas development assistance as soon as possible. She also welcomed Japan’s establishment of a Human Security Fund within the United Nations to help the Organization’s programmes and agencies to effectively address population, environment, and poverty eradication, among others. The Fund also strongly believed that the focus of the 10-year ICPD review should be on accelerating the implementation of the goals set at Cairo, as well as increasing funding for that acceleration.

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