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Jacqueline Mahon, Senior Policy Advisor on Global Health and Health Systems UNFPA speaking at launch of State of World Population Report 2011

By January 31, 2012News

26 October 2011

Good morning and thank you for joining this launch as we approach an historic day.

Let me first take this opportunity to thank Minister Sullivan for her participation at this launch and more generally Ireland’s valued partnership and support to UNFPA. I would also like to acknowledge our deep appreciation to the Irish Family Planning Association for organizing this launch and their deep commitment to our mandate over a number of years.

In five days, world population will reach 7 billion. The milestone of 7 billion is marked by achievements, setbacks and paradoxes, our numbers continue to rise.

UNFPA sees this milestone as a challenge, an opportunity and a call to action.

In some of the poorest countries, high fertility rates hamper development and perpetuate poverty, while in some of the richest countries, low fertility rates and too few people entering the job markets are raising concerns about prospects for sustained economic growth and about the viability of social security systems.

And while progress is being made in reducing extreme poverty, gaps between rich and poor are widening almost everywhere. Questions of equitable access to resources and opportunities are now more and more increasingly being raised, including how governments relate to their citizens and how decisions are taken in an ever complex and globalised world. From the Arab Spring to the sit-ins on Wall Street, people are questioning and demanding answers. They are young, part of the largest youth generation our world has ever known, and they are determined

Our report entitled ‘People & Possibilities in a World of Seven Billion’ explores some of these paradoxes and challenges from the perspective of the individual, drawing from nine countries in which we interviewed ordinary people, national demographic experts and policymakers who describe the obstacles they confront – and overcome – in trying to build better lives for themselves, their families, communities and nations.

While our world of 7 billion presents a complex picture of trends and paradoxes, there are some essential global trends we observe.

  • Educating girls and empowering women to fully participate in society is a winning strategy that is proven to work.
  • Engaging boys and men, for they are the critical partners we require for health and development.
  • Importance of a rights-based approach to development.

These are universal truths.

But, conversely, there is no ONE global population outlook. Instead, there are three common population scenarios:

  • In countries with high population growth and low incomes, such as sub-Saharan Africa, many adolescent girls and women cannot determine their fertility, with population outstripping economic growth and the ability of health services to serve their people.
  • In many middle income countries where population growth has stabilized, issues of urbanization and migration factor heavily into population dynamics.
  • In many European countries, Japan and elsewhere, fertility has fallen below the replacement level. Governments in these countries are challenged by shortages of labour and productivity, which potentially threaten the quality of life for the ageing generations.

With these trends in mind, we must ask which actions we can take today that will chart a path towards sustainable social and economic development and prepare the world going forward.

Today’s milestone is a wake-up call. It’s a reminder that we must act now. Luckily, we have a strategy to guide the way.

In 1994, world leaders from almost 180 countries came together in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development, the ICPD, and established a strategy for countries to put the health, rights, dignity and well-being of people at the centre of development. This became UNFPA’s mission, and it is as critical today, if not more so, than it was back in Cairo.

More recently, in 2000, the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals and its modification in 2007 to put emphasis on reproductive health have also provided greater visibility to the issues of adolescent girls and women’s needs.

The direction we took was considered groundbreaking, as the population community shifted its focus from numbers to human rights. We have made much progress by addressing the needs of youth, girls and women, and by providing comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning.

With the 2014 anniversary of the ICPD rapidly approaching, the data indeed show that the road to equitable economic and social development runs straight through the centre of our mandate at UNFPA.

But our work is far from done. There is so much more we must do. And we need continued support from donors, greater commitment from programme countries and indeed from the whole international community to fulfill our mandate.

Consider that:

  • There are 215 million women of child-bearing age in developing countries who would use family planning IF they had access to it.
  • There are millions of adolescent girls and boys in the developing world who have too little access to sexuality education and counseling and information about how to prevent pregnancies or protect themselves from HIV.

We must tear down economic, legal, social and cultural barriers to put women and men and girls and boys on an equal footing in all spheres of life.

We must strengthen health care systems while at the same time support leadership and partnership at the community level to influence social norms and catalyze action.

We should invest in the health and education of the world’s 1.8 billion young people and make them enterpreneurs who foster sustainable development.

With planning and the right investments in people—particularly young women and men—today, we can have thriving sustainable cities and communities, productive labour forces that fuel social and economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the well-being of their societies, and communities where the elderly are productive, healthy economically secure and have dignity.

In a world of seven billion let us count on each other – there are 7 billion possibilities.

Thank you for listening.