Press Releases

    SOC/4669
    16 February 2005

    Tackling Poverty, Discrimination Central to Human Advancement, Social Development Commission Told

    Concludes Reviewing UN Plans, Action Programmes, As Speakers Focus on Youth, Ageing, Threat of HIV/AIDS

    NEW YORK, 15 February (UN Headquarters) -- Tackling poverty and discrimination was central to social development and human advancement, as well as to raising living standards “in larger freedom”, as called for in the United Nations Charter 60 years ago, the Commission on Social Development was told today, as it concluded its review of United Nations plans and action programmes pertaining to the situation of social groups.

    “We have to start by working together in a way that we have not done before, and we must not only do things differently, we must do different things”, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said. A global alliance must be created among governments, the United Nations system, civil society and the private sector, for which the Millennium Development Goals provide a unifying framework and focus.

    Today, the planet was home to the world’s largest youth population and the largest number of older persons, he continued. The ageing of the planet was unprecedented, and many older citizens were living in poverty, without a social safety net to protect them. Together, the world must respond to that growing and urgent challenge. Further, one of the greatest threats to development was HIV/AIDS, which was devastating southern Africa and “set to explode” in parts of Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. Especially hard-hit had been young women. Progress in arresting the epidemic depended on universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, for which money must be freed from military budgets and debt cancellation, which was strangling many of the poorest nations.

    Asserting that available statistics had indicted everyone, Kenya’s speaker said that the grim situation in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa had worsened in the past 10 years. Incidences of malaria, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, though showing a marked decline, continued to ravage Africa’s people; more than half the United Nations peacekeeping operations were in Africa, and civil strife had set back social development. Poverty, also, was devastating; the average life expectancy had dropped, child mortality was the highest in the world, and under-nourishment had flourished unabatedly. The international community’s fragmented sectoral approaches had made it difficult to realize its noble goals.

    Focusing on the young and old, and persons with disabilities, a representative of the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea said that past welfare policies had been based largely on a condescending attitude. The new policy recognized that persons with disabilities, for example, were equally valuable human resources, especially in a knowledge-based economy. Thus, the Government was trying to accommodate their needs by shaping a wide array of welfare policies, from income security and housing to health and cultural programmes. With the Republic of Korea’s speed of population ageing among the fastest in the world, the Government had generated a number of programmes to prepare the nation for the changes resulting from the ageing phenomenon, including the creation of a task force to develop a public long-term care system for senior citizens.

    Also concerned about the serious challenges confronting older persons in developing countries, Bangladesh’s representative stressed the urgent need to strive for their overall well-being. Implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action required sustained actions at all levels to respond to demographic changes and to mobilize the skills and energies of older persons. Her country’s targeted programmes for the ageing population included pensions, allowances for widows and the provision of housing for disabled older persons. Worldwide, 18 per cent of youth lived on less than $1 a day and about 45 per cent lived on less than $2 a day. South Asia had the largest number of youth living below the two poverty lines, followed by sub-Saharan Africa. Mainstreaming youth in the poverty eradication process was a necessary, but complex challenge.

    Statements in the morning’s general discussion were also made by the representatives of Zambia, Tunisia, Haiti, Malawi, Jamaica, Suriname, Venezuela, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Colombia, and Cuba. The representative of Japan exercised his right of reply.

    Also speaking were representatives of the United Nations Volunteers, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Federation on Ageing, International Council of Psychologists and the American Psychological Association, and HelpAge.

    Participating in this afternoon’s discussion on review of the Commission’s work methods were the representatives of Luxembourg, on behalf of the European Union, the United States, and Jamaica, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China. Johan Schölvinck, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the report of the Secretary-General on the review of the Commission’s working methods.

    The Commission on Social Development will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 16 February, to consider programme performance and implementation for the biennium 2002-2003 and a proposed work programme for the biennium 2006-2007.

    Background

    The Commission on Social Development met today, in two meetings, to conclude its review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, and to embark on a review of its methods of work.

    Statements

    MWELWA C. MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia) said his country remained committed to the implementation of all 10 priority areas of the World Programme of Action for Youth and additional priority areas. While some progress had been achieved in a number of priority areas, more complex challenges had emerged. Zambia was reviewing its national youth policy in order to conform to current pressing issues affecting youth in line with the additional priority areas of the action plan. To address the problem of youth unemployment, the Government had prioritized provision of productive skills coupled with entrepreneurship development among the youth as a strategy for creating gainful employment and reducing poverty. Zambia had established youth training centres to build life-skills capacity among youth. Zambia also recognized the need to increase financial commitments to youth employment initiatives. Greater support was required, however, to effectively implement policies.

    Global socio-economic changes had negatively impacted the Zambian family system, he said. The elderly also continued to face numerous challenges, including care and support for orphans and vulnerable children as a result of HIV/AIDS. In that regard, the Government had put in place measures to lessen the burden of the aged through programmes such as public welfare assistance and support for education and health services for children under their custody. The National Pension Scheme was currently under review, and the country was also developing a national policy on ageing. Zambia was committed to the full implementation of the World Programme of Action for Disabled Persons and had formulated a national policy on disability. Due to inadequate financial and skilled human resources, his country had been unable to achieve the goals set out in the relevant plans and programmes of action. He urged development partners to increase support in that regard.

    SAMIR KOUBAA (Tunisia) said the picture was mixed -- some hopes had been met while others had not. Governments bore the primary responsibility for the social development of their countries, but attainment of that noble goal depended, not only on implementation of national measures on education, health, employment promotion, and social protection, but also on an external economic environment that was equitable for developing countries. That meant adopting trade policies conducive to improved market access and the elimination of trade obstacles; increasing official development assistance (ODA); solving debt problems; and creating conditions for countries’ technological and sustainable development.

    He said his country had been working on strengthening its human potential, in order to help the vulnerable populations and end exclusion. It was seeking a balance between the social and economic facets of development so as to allow for sufficient economic performance in concert with harmonious social development. Sustainable social development could only be attained through solidarity at the international level. That would enable countries to address all causes of poverty, insecurity, instability and extremism affecting their human and financial resources. Tunisia had contributed substantially to the solidarity fund and was now taking measures to attain the Millennium Development Goals.

    LEE SUK KYU, Director, International Cooperation Division, Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, said his country’s welfare policies sought to realize a rights-based, barrier-free, inclusive society. As such, those principles were enshrined in the five-year welfare programme formulated in 2003, which had, at its core, five objectives: welfare services befitting the different stages of life; expansion of integrated education programmes; improved job security for persons with disabilities; bridging the digital divide for persons with disabilities; and providing easy-to-use and safe transportation systems for persons with disabilities. His Government was strengthening proactive measures to prevent disabilities that resulted from various types of accidents. It was also providing practical services for people already with disabilities, taking into account their age and gender, as well as type and degree of disability.

    He said that past welfare policies largely flowed from an attitude of “condescension”, whereas the Government’s new policy recognized that persons with disabilities were equally valuable human resources, especially in a knowledge-based economy. Such persons, as well as their families, therefore, received assistance to actively take part in economic activities and businesses that provided favourable environments. The Government was also trying to accommodate the “real” demands of such persons by shaping a wide array of welfare policies from income security and housing services to health and cultural programmes. Meanwhile, the speed of population ageing in his country was among the fastest in the world. The low birth rate of 1.19 in 2003 had accelerated population ageing, and this year, those over the age of 65 would account for 9 per cent of the total population and, in some rural areas, even 14 per cent, indicating the advent of an “aged” society. That had emerged as a critical challenge requiring the formulation of a systematic and effective strategy.

    As part of that effort, the Government had established in 2004 the Presidential Committee on Ageing and Future Society, which was responsible for the overall coordination of government measures on ageing. The National Strategy for an Ageing Society and Declining Fertility, issued last month, was expected to prepare the nation for the changes resulting from the ageing phenomenon. That comprehensive strategy dealt with a host of policy areas, ranging from population, family and employment to health, welfare, and fiscal affairs. A legal framework was also being developed to ensure the shared responsibility of central and local governments in improving the health and welfare of the elderly population and developing policies for them. Each individual also had a duty to prepare for his or her retirement. Also as a result of population ageing, the number of older people requiring long-term care was rapidly increasing, while the traditional role of families as caregivers was diminishing. Thus, the Government had created a task force to develop a public long-term care system for senior citizens.

    NICOLE ROMULUS (Haiti) said the Interim Government was more determined than ever to continue its efforts in keeping with the Copenhagen commitments and was aware of need to strengthen its social infrastructure. It had taken measures to ensure access of the most underprivileged to health care, information and education. While the National Education Ministry had launched a national education and training programme, institutional instability and lack of public financing had negatively affected that programme’s success. Literacy and poverty went hand in hand. As the issue of literacy was not solely a matter of reading and writing, an integrated approach was needed. The Interim Government paid special attention to the issue due to the country’s high illiteracy rate.

    Describing the feminization of poverty, she said many women were heads of households and were unemployed. To break the vicious circle of the reproduction of poverty, the Interim Government had stressed the need to improve the access of girls to education.  The Ministry of the Status of Women and Women’s Rights had worked to build awareness on the need to improve gender equality. HIV/AIDS and other pandemics were a large problem for Haiti. Great displacements of the population had led to lack of social awareness and poor health care. Also, the country’s precarious economic conditions had pushed people into prostitution. The Interim Government was counting on the support of its partners to improve laws concerning assistance for the most vulnerable people and hoped it would receive the international community’s sustained support.

    JASON WAITHAKA, Commissioner for Social Services of Kenya, said that the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change had made significant observations about social development, including that sub-Saharan Africa had not made major progress in the last 10 years. Indeed, the situation in most countries was worse now than it had been 10 years ago. Available statistics indicted all, and the situation was grim. Incidences of malaria, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, though showing a marked decline, continued to ravage Africa’s people; more than half the United Nations peacekeeping operations were in Africa; and civil strife had set back social development. Concerted efforts must be made to halt that deadly cycle. The situation was unacceptable, which led him to ask where the community of nations had gone wrong. Poverty also was devastating; the average life expectancy had dropped; child mortality was the highest in the world; and under-nourishment had flourished unabatedly.

    Again, he asked where the world had gone wrong. The dichotomy between the Millennium Development Goals and social development on the one hand, and insecurity on the other, was evident, but the fragmented sectoral approaches of the international community made it difficult to realize the noble goals it had set for itself. Kenya had embarked on implementing ambitious strategies aimed at substantially reducing the overall poverty ratio with specific time-bound commitments to eradicate extreme poverty and foster social integration. The setting up of a legal and social framework was a main step towards countering “nagging” social problems for persons with disabilities. Greater participation in microcredit schemes, provision of free primary education and the proposed raising of the retirement age were among the policies Kenya had put in place. Yet, as it was all too aware, it could not keep a hungry child in class even if education was free. Similarly, it would not expect overwhelming participation in development by a population that was constantly worried about its health.

    Poverty remained one of the biggest challenges facing Kenya today, he said. Some promising scenarios had checked the unacceptable prospect of an expansion of poverty, boosted by the Poverty Eradication Commission, whose objective was to consolidate efforts and coordinate public and private sector initiatives. Polices aimed at youth, the aged, women and disabled persons had also been developed, with an emphasis on participation in both the formal and non-formal employment sectors and in macroeconomics. Kenya was still grappling with the consequences of flows of refugees and other neighbours in pursuit of a better life, which had put tremendous pressure on social services and amenities and had contributed to insecurity –- that incessant and bitter foe of social development. The outcome texts from Copenhagen and other conferences were rich and informative, but unless the world collectively and unreservedly breathed life into them, they would remain lifeless and gather dust on the library shelves. Rhetoric must be converted into action.

    ISHRAT JAHAN AHMED (Bangladesh), delivering a statement on behalf of Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, said the family played a central role in her country’s social structure. The values of that age-old institution must be preserved. Bangladesh had a National Policy for persons with disabilities, as well as a National Work Plan for its implementation. The Government was working in close cooperation with civil society organizations to provide education, training, economic opportunity and rehabilitation programmes for them. Today, older persons living in developing countries faced serious challenges. There was an urgent need to work for their overall well-being. The implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action required sustained action at all levels to respond to demographic changes and mobilize the skills and energies of older persons. Bangladesh had targeted programmes for the aged population, including pensions, allowances for widows and homes for the disabled older persons.

    Regarding the issue of youth, she noted that 209 million young people, or 18 per cent of youth, lived on less than one dollar a day, and 515 million young people -- about 45 per cent of youth -- lived on less than two dollars a day. South Asia had the largest number of youth living below the two poverty lines, followed by sub-Saharan Africa. Mainstreaming youth in the process of poverty eradication was a complex challenge which required concerted action. Bangladesh had some 45 million young people. The Government had, in that respect, adopted a National Youth Policy with the aim of transforming disorganized and unproductive youth into a productive workforce. Programmes to that end included skill development training and microfinancing. The Commission had a noble role to play in stimulating action and international cooperation for achieving the socio-economic goals of the different social groups.

    BROWN CHIMPHAMBA (Malawi) said he was convinced that investing in youth contributed significantly to poverty eradication efforts. His Government continued to strive to harness the energy and knowledge of the youth in all initiatives aimed at realizing the Millennium Development Goals. Increasingly, the youth participated in the formulation of policies and plans affecting them. Inclusion of youth representatives in the national delegations of the General Assembly and other relevant United Nations meetings had been a welcome idea. The 10 priority areas identified in the World Programme of Action for Youth remained valid, but there was a need to renew the commitment to its goals. The emerging issues identified by the Secretary-General -- globalization, HIV/AIDS spread, increased participation of young people in conflict, and the growing importance of inter-generational relations in an ageing global society -- should be thoroughly discussed at the sixtieth General Assembly session.

    He said his country was a strong proponent of an inclusive society. Its legal and policy frameworks had been used to provide guidance to programme activities that increased social integration and positively contributed to social and economic development, including by integrating the contributions of the elderly and persons with disabilities. He was hopeful that an internationally accepted legal instrument would significantly improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

    Reaffirming his country’s commitment to the Madrid Plan on Ageing, he said the rate at which older persons were becoming active parents, largely due to the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, was a cause for alarm. A lack of data to inform the policy formulation process was a major challenge. In recognition of the need to mainstream ageing issues, Malawi had stepped up its collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society on related programmes.

    FAITH INNERARITY (Jamaica) noted that 10 years after Copenhagen, the process of achieving social integration still posed an enormous challenge in the socio-economic and cultural contexts of many countries. Efforts must be redoubled, therefore, to ensure that all social groups, including youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, had access to resources and opportunities to ensure their full potential.

    A major concern was the high poverty rate of the youth population, she said. While the problem was particularly acute in rural areas, the poverty rate among the youth in inner cities was also of growing concern. In many countries, the youth were overrepresented among the poor when compared with their percentage share in the total population. In Jamaica, persons under 18 years accounted for 52.3 per cent of those living in poverty while constituting 38.2 per cent of the overall population. Some 61 per cent of the poor population was less than 25 years old.

    She said there was an urgent need to address continued inequalities in access to education based on factors such as social class, race or ethnicity. While many countries had recorded a reversal in the gender imbalance in educational access, rising male underachievement was now a major concern with far-reaching implications for social stability. Of major importance was the need for education and training in new information and communication technologies to bridge the widening “digital divide” between developed and developing countries. Entrepreneurial education, advanced skills training and work experience for students should also be integral components of strategies to reduce the high rates of youth unemployment. Youth participation in decision-making should be encouraged, as it fostered social integration and nurtured self-development. It was also necessary to address factors that threatened the physical, mental and social well-being of youth. A stable family unit was the social institution most capable of instilling positive values among young people. In cases of dysfunctional families, State support systems were important for ensuring the care and protection of children and adolescents.

    Mr. AMATHGALIM (Suriname) said that people with disabilities, youth, older persons and the family were at the centre of the discussion. In its national policy, his Government had focused on the development and promotion of education, health care, employment, social security and housing as essential for enhancing social development. All groups in society must have equal access to those development pillars, and the Government, therefore, pursued a policy aimed at providing them all with access to development opportunities. Such an integrated approach, including collaboration with the private sector, was essential to achieving results. Poverty was a major cause of deprivation and one of the Government’s policy interventions had been to provide financial incentives, housing and medical insurance to persons with disabilities. It had also focused on early childhood development, as early interventions could prevent disabilities.

    He said that youth participation was another pillar of the Government’s policy. The National Youth Parliament, established in 2004, was drafting a youth parliament policy document and had participated in the Forum on Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Youth Ambassadors. The Government had also set as a major goal the elaboration of policies that strengthened families, stemming from the belief that solid families created solid and prosperous societies. It was also seeking to include the challenges of population ageing in its national programmes and policies. As such, a National Advisory Board had been established to provide the Government with the necessary support and advice in that regard. In Suriname, there was a custom that older persons stayed as long as possible within the family environment and were cared for by their children. That custom was recognized by the Civil Code, which contained regulations concerning support for needy older persons by their children. Pensions also contained an “old age” provision.

    ZULLY GONZALEZ (Venezuela) said her Government was focusing its efforts on overcoming social imbalances. Social development was a multidimensional process, including cultural and social values. Venezuela had designed its national development plan for the period 2001 to 2007 based on five major elements, including the idea of social and political balance. The driving force of the State policy was the need for social balance. The family was of fundamental importance, and Venezuela’s social development policies were geared towards strengthening the family as the natural place for human growth and development. In that regard, it had established 99 centres for abandoned children.

    The country sought to guarantee the full exercise of the rights of all social groups, including the elderly, she said. There were some 30 assisted living homes, 14 rural care centres and 59 geriatric day-care centres. The Government advocated a holistic approach regarding its policies for persons with disabilities. A professional rehabilitation centre had been established which provided training and job location for persons with disabilities.

    ALEJANDRO ALDAY (Mexico) was deeply convinced that human beings must be at the centre of social development. The Government’s social policy had recognized the complexity of poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon covering the entire life cycle. Efforts were being made to improve the social and poverty indicators through an ambitious social policy designed to “come to grips” with poverty’s root causes and to place people at the forefront of development. That strategy was spearheading development for all Mexicans by coordinating all social programmes, while seeing to it that social development contributed to economic development. It had taken a lifestyle approach to people by providing them with cumulative guarantees from childhood, generating income opportunities in adolescence and building equity by the time the person reached adulthood.

    He said his Government was now turning its attention to particular social groups, aiming to promote their full participation in all sectors of society on the basis of shared responsibility. For example, the Government was equalizing opportunities for persons with disabilities while advancing and protecting their rights. He hailed the strides made by the United Nations Committee to formulate an international convention and he had seen the emergence of a chance to adopt a text by later next year. The paramount watchword was the need to craft an instrument that would set the standards for such persons and be fully backed by all States. Indispensable was the input of all stakeholders, particularly civil society and the specialized United Nations agencies. The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Disabilities had a special perch from which to contribute to the process. Mexico would submit a resolution contributing to that process.

    On youth, he said he welcomed the holistic approach taken by the Secretary-General in his report and had agreed with many of his proposals in that regard, particularly the preparation of regional reports to detect trends over time. Mexico’s national youth programme was making it possible to do something concrete about improving the quality of life for young people, with the fundamental aim to involve them in society’s development. Particular attention should be paid to the application of penal justice to minors, particularly by abolishing the death penalty for minors in a way that conformed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mexico, through several initiatives, had promoted the inclusion of young people, the elderly and persons with disabilities in its social development policies. It had formulated several programmes designed to improve their quality of life, including an action programme to deal with the ageing issue.

    M.P. MANGWANA, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe said his Government fully subscribed to the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. To implement the Programme of Action, it had intervened with legislative, social safety net and economic empowerment measures. In the area of legislation, the Government had established a Disability Board, which administered a Disability Fund into which the Governments annually appropriated budget resources. Even before the proclamation of the Decade for People with Disabilities, Zimbabwe had responded to the high percentage of people with disabilities who had been maimed during the protracted liberation war. The Disability Act promoted self-representation of persons with disabilities and enshrined the rights to non-discrimination, participation and self-realization. The Government had enhanced the provision of basic services to persons with disabilities through the provision of social safety net programmes, including maintenance allowances, health assistance, basic education and vocational training.

    Zimbabwe, like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, was faced with the crippling effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Older persons had become the key component of the country’s social safety net delivery systems for HIV orphans. To enhance the provision of social protection to older persons as a follow-up to Madrid, Zimbabwe had an Older Persons Bill, which, when it became law, would define comprehensive social protection packages for older persons in such areas as pension, health and economic participation. In line with the Madrid Plan of Action, Zimbabwe carried out a National Census every 10 years with surveys every five years providing data on the number of elderly persons. Poverty Assessment Study Surveys, conducted every five years, disaggregated poverty by vulnerable groups.

    MARIA ANGELA HOLGUIN CUELLAR (Colombia) said that the scourges of terrorism and drug trafficking had diverted resources that would have otherwise been used for social development. Restoring security was part and parcel of ensuring social development for all. Colombia was moving towards a “nationwide community”, whose purpose was to afford democratic security, spur economic and sustainable growth, create jobs, and enhance the transparency of the Government and the State. The Government sought to equalize opportunities, with educational reform being a cornerstone of that effort, along with improving social security and developing small- and medium-sized enterprises. Sports were also being promoted. The Government was also moving forward with legal and budgetary tools to guarantee a level of social spending in tune with its priorities. Shoring up social services was making it possible to reach those most in need of help.

    She said her Government was subsidizing families in an effort to improve their quality of life, keep their children in school and avail the adults of further training opportunities. At the same time, the Government had not wanted the population to “fall into the trap of cultivating dependence”. Social independence gave citizens the tools for the future. Thus, the Government was building social and health and pension systems, which also ensured older persons’ access to integral health care and a minimum pension.

    To offset joblessness, labour legislation was being updated; new forms of supporting the unemployed were being developed; and training allocations were being significantly increased. Direct incentives were being introduced to hire young people and those with disabilities, she added. Last year, an educational programme offered 750,000 additional “school units” to the poorest, and literacy and technological capacity was growing. Work must be tireless to make further progress and generate a setting for poverty reduction, economic growth and social equality in the context of respect for human rights, social integration, and citizens’ full participation.

    JORGE FERRER RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said the social policy pursued by the Cuban revolution had contrasted sharply with the situation before that time, when massive numbers of people in the cities and countryside had been out of work. The State was responsible for guaranteeing employment and social security assistance without discrimination. The Government had the role of establishing the legislative framework and providing material resources in order to build a system of social security and assistance. That system was based on the idea of providing real and effective coverage for 100 per cent of the country’s population.

    Ageing was a reality in Cuba, he said. By 2005, about 15 per cent of the population would be 60 years and over. Ageing was not a problem, however, but was a matter of achievement for a just and equitable social system. Cuba had applied proactive policies based on direct contact with the people affected. Providing assistance at the home and family level was stressed. Integrating all persons with disabilities in society was also a priority task. Providing jobs for young people was a strategic priority. Thousands of persons with disabilities had been given jobs, and dozens of social labour assistance centres had been created. Dealing with individuals in tune with their particular needs was an essential element for appropriate social services.

    KUNIO WAKI, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), stressed that tackling poverty and discrimination was central to social development and human advancement. That was also central to raising living standards in larger freedom, as stated by the United Nations’ founders 60 years ago. “We have to start by working together in a way that we have not done before. And we must not only do things differently, we must do different things”, he said. A global alliance must be created between governments, the United Nations system, civil society, community-based groups, and the private sector, for which the Millennium Development Goals provided a unifying framework and focus.

    At the human level, he said that special attention must be paid to those who were marginalized and vulnerable, specifically indigenous populations, disabled persons, refugees and displaced persons, and increasing numbers of migrants. The family, as society’s basic unit, also deserved protection and support. Today, the planet was home to the world’s largest youth population and the largest number of older persons. The ageing of the planet was unprecedented, and many older citizens were living in poverty, without a social safety net to protect them. Together, the world must respond to that growing and urgent challenge. For all people wanting a chance to escape from poverty, to live in peace, to go to school, to be healthy, and to build lives free of violence and discrimination -– a first step was population data. Censuses and surveys gave people a chance to be counted and a chance to be heard.

    He called for greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health. Those services included voluntary family planning, care during pregnancy and childbirth, and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Today, poor sexual and reproductive health represented a significant proportion of the world’s total health problem. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death and illness among women of reproductive age in developing countries, and poor maternal health was a leading cause of infant and child mortality. The Millennium Project had identified 17 quick wins to jumpstart and ensure development, he noted. One of those quick wins was ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health. Countries that had invested in education and reproductive health, including family planning, had reduced maternal mortality. Among those were Mexico, Thailand, Iran, Sri Lanka and Egypt.

    One of the greatest threats to development today was HIV/AIDS, he said. That was devastating nations in southern Africa and was “set to explode” in parts of Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. Half of all new HIV infections were among young people, and young women had been especially hard-hit; three in four HIV-infected youth in southern Africa were young women. The “feminization” of the HIV pandemic went hand in hand with its spread in the general population, and today, the vast majority of HIV infections were sexually transmitted. Progress in arresting the epidemic depended on universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, for which money must be freed from military budgets and debt cancellation, which was strangling many of the poorest nations. The Fund was committed to working in partnership with people, governments and the United Nations system for social development, and it was committed to the principles of human rights, cultural sensitivity and gender equality to ensure greater progress.

    ROBERT LEIGH of the United Nations Volunteers said the role of voluntary action and its contribution to the well-being of the most disadvantaged in society was now better understood. Volunteerism brought significant benefits to the individual volunteer. As a cross-cutting phenomenon, volunteering could help override inequalities due to age, gender and disability. For older persons, it could help overcome feelings of isolation and rejection. Volunteering could also assist people in developing new skills, acquiring valuable experience and making workplace contacts. Another important benefit from voluntary action was the building up of reciprocal relationships among community members.

    The capacity to participate in local systems of voluntary mutual support represented, for many of the world’s vulnerable, the ultimate safety net, he said. The income-poor generally participated in such support networks based on volunteerism and solidarity. The absence of access to such networks, or social capital, might for a poor family mean crossing the line into destitution. Volunteerism was become a more inclusive phenomenon, one which helped to promote the integration rate, rather than reinforce existing inequalities.

    ENCHO GOSPODINOV, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, recalled that the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, held in Kobe, Japan, in January, had emphasized disaster risk reduction and community resilience and the prominence they had in programmes to eradicate poverty and promote development. Participants had clearly recognized the importance of building local capacity so that it could work alongside government authorities in preparing for and responding to disasters.

    The ensuing declaration recognized the intrinsic relationship between disaster reduction, sustainable development and poverty eradication, he said. In other words, disaster reduction and preparedness must be fitted into development planning, both because of what that meant for national and community development, and because of the savings of life and property. The action programme adopted at the Conference had been even more specific and included several objectives, which should receive the attention of the Commission and other United Nations bodies. One aspect had focused on the role of volunteers.

    Mr. SHAW of the International Federation on Ageing, said population ageing was unprecedented. Today, there were more than 600 million people aged 60 and over. The figure was expected to double by 2025, reaching 2 billion by 2050, with the vast majority of older people living in the developing world. More than 1 billion people lived in abject poverty. A large portion of those were women and older people, having limited access to income, resources, education, nutrition and health care, particularly in the developing and least developed countries.

    Civil society and governments must be partners in multidimensional and integrated approaches that supported older person in the quest to develop and maintain an improved quality of life, he said. Older persons must be viewed as resources and not as burdens. Older people must be included at the centre of development, in terms of policy and regulatory development and implementation, to ensure their equal involvement in economic and social protection, lifelong learning and access to productive resources.

    Member States needed to recognize and make serious efforts to incorporate older persons in decision-making regarding policies, programmes and regulations affecting them and their families. Social development required that all people, including ageing populations, were fully engaged at the centre of development, bringing added value for the benefit of all.

    FLORENCE DENMARK, of the International Council of Psychologists and the American Psychological Association and current Chair of the NGO Committee on Ageing, said that the view of older persons as primarily dependent, disabled, frail and in need of protection was still prevalent in many societies today. That view continued to dominate many governmental and non-governmental programmes and policies affecting elders, especially for those living in poverty. Poverty defined the lives of a significant number of older persons worldwide, and was a critical gender issue. Women were more often the focal points of family life, yet critical numbers of them lived alone and in poverty. An overwhelming majority of older persons, however, including many with disabilities, were capable, active members of their communities. As the world community grew and aged, larger and larger numbers of elderly people would continue to thrive and contribute to their families and societies.

    She said that older persons must be views as resources, and not as burdens. Experience had shown how quickly and substantively older persons responded to situations, in order to preserve family and community life. That was apparent by the number of grandparents caring for their own and the communities’ youngsters as required. Indeed, they were filling the gap of the missing middle-aged, which had died as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other widespread diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis. Other middle-aged persons were missing because of immigration and civil strife. Meanwhile, numbers of older persons were developing income-generating activities and being recruited back into employment, eager to be re-trained when necessary. Data must be disaggregated for age, as well as sex, and older persons must be counted. Ageing was a life cycle process in which the end period of life was as vital as the beginning and the middle. Any poverty-reduction strategy must incorporate the “person-power” of older people.

    Ms. BEALES of HelpAge International said this session was significant in that it reaffirmed that all people were at the centre of development. One quarter of the chronically poor lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the plans adopted and commitments made had not been backed up with concrete actions and strategies. The implementation of programmes required looking at how poverty affected people according to age and gender. Older people were among the poorest of the poor, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. She was encouraged to hear that many governments were taking on the issue of older persons in their social protection programmes.

    The obligations of human rights should be supported by benchmarks to take forward existing commitments, she continued. The narrow indicator base attached to the Millennium Development Goals excluded the poorest, including older persons, from programmes which were supposed to affect them. It was important to consider practical aid financing. Aid programmes could be monitored and adjusted according to the delivery of rights. Targeted programmes were needed to deal with excluded groups. Global action on social protection would go a long way to further the delivery of human rights obligations to the poorest people.

    Right of Reply

    Japan’s representative, exercising his right of reply in response to the statement made yesterday in the Commission by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that Japan’s position concerning past issues was as stated in the “Japan/DPRK Pyongyang Declaration”. The criticism made by the delegate yesterday in that regard had been unwarranted. Japan requested that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea take sincere measures to resolve outstanding issues.

    Review of the Commission’s Methods of Work

    Introducing the Secretary-General’s report, JOHAN SCHOLVINCK, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, noted that report provided an update to the report submitted to the Commission at its last session. The second part of the report contained a summary of last year’s summary. The third part of the report put forward seven recommendations, including the importance of ensuring the participation of high-level representatives; more focused outcomes on the Commission’s priority themes; consideration of adopting a biennial work programme; the possibility of including in its future agendas an item on new challenges and emerging issues; and identifying ways and means to make the commission a forum for fostering cooperation, partnership and solidarity in the pursuit of social justice.

    The Commission could not remain a self-referencing body whose reports got only a cursory review at the Economic and Social Council, he said. The subject matter it dealt with was far too important to be relegated to the margins. The Commission should inform and advise ECOSOC -- the place where coherence, consistency and capability among social and economic policies should find expression. The Commission’s challenge, therefore, was to inject the social dimension into the overall development debate, which was all too often dominated by economic considerations.

    Discussion

    VALERIE HEYMAN (Luxembourg), on behalf of the European Union, took note of General Assembly resolution 57/270b, which had asked each functional Commission to examine its work methods, in order to better pursue implementation of the outcomes of the major international summits. Any review of the Commission’s work should be aimed at improving it and facilitating the accomplishment of its mission, namely follow-up on the Social Development Summit and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly. The Union reaffirmed the importance of contributions of expert panels and round tables. In addition, it supported dynamic interaction with all stakeholders and specialized agencies, including the relevant United Nations funds and programmes, specialized agencies, the Bretton Woods institutions, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Those bodies had a critical role to play in the implementation of the Copenhagen agenda, and the Commission could consider how to effectively engage them in the process.

    She said that the Commission might need to raise its profile and enhance its relevance, in order to attract a broader range of actors to the social development quest. The Union strongly supported more focused and action-oriented policy outcomes from the Commission, including negotiated outcomes. Indeed, the Commission’s challenge was to bring about the “delivery” of such outcomes, for which focused reports, as inputs into the deliberations, were also relevant. In addition to reviewing implementation of the Copenhagen agenda at the national and international levels, the relevant regional institutions also had a potentially important role to play. She welcomed South Africa’s initiative to bring forward a draft decision on the Commission’s working methods, and the Union shared its underlying aim, namely to revitalize the Commission’s work.

    CARL B. FOX (United States) said his delegation continued to believe that the Commission should increase its emphasis on interactivity and dialogue, to the extent that it could fully engage stakeholders and better position itself to implement the Copenhagen Declaration. The Commission should also increase its focus on national level results, foster partnerships and identify initiatives to accelerate implementation. The Commission would benefit by adopting a biennial programme of work, along the lines of the re-energized Commission for Sustainable Development. The United States was prepared to work with all delegations to make the Commission a more effective and efficient body.

     Ms. INNERARITY (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, supported the move to improve the effectiveness of the Commission. The Group wanted a Commission that was more interactive and which discussed more substantively the central issues of social development. The inclusion of the round tables in the session and the involvement of ministers had brought some added value to the process. In future, however, the Group would expect more time to be dedicated to the interactive aspect of the Commission’s work.

    In that regard, she added, the Group was happy with the proposal presented by the South African delegation to adopt the approach used in the Sustainable Development Commission. A review session would allow for more time to reflect on substantive issues. The Commission should have an impact at all levels. The Group was willing to engage in a constructive dialogue on the way forward. She asked members to consider the Commission’s role and the need for it to revitalize its work. After all, the Commission existed to provide action-oriented strategies.

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