UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



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ROLE OF OLDER PEOPLE, FIGHTING POVERTY AND SUPPPORT FOR FAMILIES AMONG THEMES STRESSED AT AGEING ASSEMBLY, MADRID
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8 April 2002
     

     


    Issues of Ageing Must Be in Mainstream of Global Agenda,
    Says ECOSOC President

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)


    “It would be good if everybody could see older people as the bridge to our past and our future”, Virgilia Matabela, Minister for Women’s Affairs and Social Action of Mozambique, told the Second World Assembly on Ageing this afternoon, as it continued its general debate.  “They have built the nations we are so proud of today.”

     “We recognize that our future can only shine if we reconcile our dreams with the dreams of our parents and grandparents”, she continued.  There was a need to capitalize on the experiences of older people which were gathered along the way of many years of hardship.

     Echoing those sentiments, South Africa’s Minister of Social Development, Zola Skweyiya, said the great leaders in the struggle for democracy, such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and the late Oliver Tambo, epitomized the courage and contribution older persons had made to freedom, democracy and human rights in his country.  However, the legacy of apartheid had manifested itself in severe poverty and social exclusion, especially for older persons.

     In highlighting the importance of the fight against poverty in alleviating the situation of older persons, the Minister reflected the concerns of many of this afternoon’s speakers.  Another key challenge faced was abuse and violence against older persons and their vulnerability to financial exploitation.  HIV/AIDS had social and economic consequences for many older persons.  Older women, in particular, had to care for their dying children and orphaned grandchildren.  They suffered from financial hardship and social isolation and risked their health.

          Masoud Pezeshkian, Minister of Health and Medical Education of Iran, noted that, while revising health-related disciplines to encompass geriatrics and making all required services accessible in the health network, clinical-based evidence, as well as Iran’s rich cultural background, indicated that the best place for the elderly to receive managed care would be within the family, another point emphasized by many speakers.

          Speakers also addressed issues of social security and older people in the working place.  Roberto Maroni, Minister of Welfare of Italy, said to prevent population ageing from becoming an economic and social problem, adequate, timely and dynamic measures should be implemented at international, national and local levels.  The increase in the older population tended to lead to an increase in pension and health costs.  If active measures for employment and social protection were not implemented, the sustainability of public finances could be severely affected.

    The ageing of the population forced consideration of possibly extending active life beyond the current average retirement age, he said. The sustainability of social security systems was strictly linked to the capacity of countries to increase the overall level of employment.  Just as important were instruments that encourage the market to offer older people opportunities to work.
     

          The President of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, Ivan Simonovic (Croatia), said the Council was a coordinating body, establishing links with and among functional commissions on cross-cutting issues in the economic and social field.  The follow-up process of the World Assembly would provide an opportunity for the Council to become a key global platform to enhance policy coherence in the area of ageing among global partners.  This Assembly was a unique opportunity for setting practical targets and agreeing upon concrete action for implementation.

    The Council’s Commission on Population and Development had been examining and assessing the trends, determinants and consequences of population ageing.  A major task of the Commission was to monitor, review and assess the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) at the national, regional and international level.  In that context, he emphasized the importance of mainstreaming the subject of ageing in the global agenda.

    Other speakers this afternoon were the:  Minister of Public Health and Social Welfare of El Salvador, José Francisco Lopez Bertran; Minister of Labour and Social Policy of Ukraine, Ivan Sakhan; Minister of Employment, of Professional Training, Social Development and Solidarity of Morocco, Abass El Fassi; State Secretary of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands, Margo Vliegenthart; First Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Development of the Russian Federation, Karevola, G.N.; Secretary-General for Welfare, Ministry of Health and Welfare of Greece, Maria Menoudakou-Beldekou; and Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Social Welfare of Dominican Republic, Adalgisa Abreu Sanchez.  The representatives of the Bahamas and France spoke, as well, as did the observer of the Holy See.

    Also addressing the World Assembly were:  Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Anna Diamantopoulou, Commissioner responsible for Employment and Social Affairs of the European Commission; and the President of the International Federation of Ageing, a non-governmental organization.

     
    Statements

          JOSÉ FRANCISCO LOPEZ BERTRAN, Minister for Public Health and Social Welfare of El Salvador:  In El Salvador, the phenomenon of ageing is drawing the attention of economists, social workers and many others.  Almost imperceptibly there is a change occurring in the age structure, entailing an increase of the elderly.  That has a great impact for the structures of inter-generational living.  There are many organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working to help the elderly.  Their action has provided a source for information on economic, social and health programmes.  We hope that a red light will be lit to insure that the plans of action will be improved and to ensure that effective action can be taken.

    El Salvador has more than 6 million inhabitants and is densely populated. The elderly live mainly in the cities.  The elderly have problems of health, as well.  Social security is provided for 20 per cent of them.  The Senate has just adopted a bill for the elderly, establishing a National Council to set up programmes for the elderly.  The health of the elderly is being addressed by 28 health centers, among other things.  Some of the priority areas are nutrition and mental help.  There are also basic services promoting the prevention of chronic diseases, and dental care, among other things.

    Among achievements attained so far, we have a national plan for the elderly, and we have been the venue for a seminar on health promotion for the elderly.  We have also addressed the question of technical cooperation in the region.

          ROBERTO MARONI, Minister of Labour and Social Policies of Italy:  To prevent population ageing from becoming an economic and social problem, adequate, timely and dynamic measures should be implemented at international, national and local levels.  The increase in the older population tends to lead to an increase in pension and health costs.  If active measures for employment and social protection are not implemented, the sustainability of public finances could be severely affected.  The health sector also may be affected by the demographic changes.  The ageing of the population forces us to consider the possibility of extending active life beyond the current average retirement age.  The sustainability of social security systems is strictly linked to the capacity of our countries to fully mobilize the potential of our societies and -- above all -- to increase the overall level of employment.  Just as important are instruments, which can encourage the market to offer older people opportunities to work.

    The strategy adopted in Italy concerning ageing as a social problem involves taking advantage of the opportunities presented by ageing, dealing with the problems associated with it and promoting a society suitable for all ages.  One of the outcomes of the International Year of Older Persons was the approval of welfare reform aimed at introducing integrated services at all levels.  Part of this strategy is the first national social plan for 2001-2003, which aims to ensure a positive vision of old people by acknowledging that the ageing process differs depending on the cultural and social context in which it occurs.  The Italian Government is committed to ensuring that all causes of discrimination are abolished, providing women with means of self-support and independence in later years.  The country’s social policies focus on encouraging the permanence of older people in the family through improvement of all services and projects to support families.

    Ensuring that older people can continue to lead their habitual lifestyles is part of the cultural choice of a community.  Local authorities are considered the real provider of social and welfare services.  Caring for sick old people at home leads to a substantial change in perspective, moving from a model where the sick person revolves around health-care structures to a model in which providers focus on the sick person.  The new Italian health programme places renewed focus on preventive strategies, aiming to reduce the burden of the most common medical conditions.  It emphasizes modifications to behaviour and lifestyle, including changes in eating habits, physical activity and alcohol consumption.  At the community level, integration between health and social services should be the key word.

          IVAN SAKHAN, Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine:  Statistics show that Ukraine is now home to a greater number of elderly persons than almost any other country in the region.  The ageing of the population is typified by features which are characteristic of the phenomenon in other neighouring countries, namely, imbalances in birth and death rates.  Birth levels were insufficient to replace older generations with new ones.  Elderly persons make up one fifth of the population.  The ageing of the population has been accompanied by a growth in the numbers of the elderly living alone.  It is necessary to ensure that those persons are not marginalized and that they continue to receive proper health care and other social or medical assistance.

          Various efforts are under way to shore up the country’s social health-care system.  The programmes that are currently under way or under consideration generally focus on improving the quality of life for our elderly and promoting their participation at all levels.  According to our estimates, the ageing of our population will continue.  The phenomenon will be felt most immediately by the national pension system and by our health-care networks.  Still, we have the opportunity to reform.  We feel we will soon have the opportunity to increase our workforce significantly due to the large number of workers that are expected to flood the country within the next few years.  We also will promote compulsory and voluntary savings schemes.  We are aware that all our efforts should make it possible to reduce and later eliminate poverty.  Increasing the birth rate, and balancing birth and death rates, will also be important.  We are committed to creating appropriate programmes which will bring about positive results in the future. 

          MASOUD PEZESHKIAN, Minister of Health and Medical Education of Iran: Population ageing is a global phenomenon that has or will affect every community; a largely irreversible trend that is the result of the demographic transition from high to low levels of fertility and mortality.  The number of individuals aged over 60 is projected to grow to almost 2 billion by 2050, of whom 54 per cent live in Asia.

    At present, 4 million people over 60 years of age live in Iran, of which 57 per cent are urban dwellers.  Women, with a lower literacy rate and higher financial dependence, comprise almost half of this number.  Although the challenge of ageing has recently emerged, we have long-established traditions based on Islamic teachings.  The teachings are at the top of the Government’s agenda to provide for the health and social needs of the older age group.  The vitality of our societies depends on active participation by older persons.  Thus, it is imperative that we support economic and social conditions that allow people of all ages to remain integrated in society.

           We are strongly convinced that the objective of social protection schemes is to provide access to health services and income security, notwithstanding that mental and emotional stability and security are as important, particularly for women.  We are taking actions to ensure a minimum income to old individuals.  We have also endeavoured to include comprehensive programmes for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases and mental health problems into our primary health-care system.  Yet, promotion of a healthy lifestyle remains the cornerstone of all programmes.  While we are revising our health-related disciplines to encompass geriatrics and make all required services accessible in the health network, clinical-based evidence, as well as our rich cultural background, indicates that the best place for the elderly to receive managed care would be within the family.
     

          ZOLA SKWEYIYA, Minister of Social Development of South Africa:  When the first World Assembly gathered 20 years ago, our people were engaged in a bitter struggle against apartheid.  We have come a long way since then.  South Africa now has a Constitution to promote equality and freedom for all, including older citizens.  We are fortunate that our struggle for democracy has produced great leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and the late Oliver Tambo.  They epitomize the courage and contribution older persons have made to freedom, democracy and human rights in South Africa.

          However, the legacy of apartheid is still with us, manifesting itself in severe poverty and social exclusion, especially for older persons.  The majority of the 3 million people over 60 are poor. The fight against poverty is, therefore, the top priority of the Government.  Our programme of social grants to older persons is central to alleviating poverty among older persons.  As the programme does not meet the needs, we have put in place a number of measures to improve the conditions of older persons, including income-generation projects, access to water, a housing subsidy scheme, and free primary health care.

          A key challenge we face is abuse and violence against older persons.  The social grants are often the sole source or income for three generation households, making older persons vulnerable to financial exploitation.  The Government established a Committee of Inquiry into abuse of older persons, and its recommendations are being implemented.   HIV/AIDS has social and economic consequences for many older persons, especially those living in poor rural communities.  Older women, in particular, have to care for their dying children and orphaned grandchildren.  They suffer from financial hardship and social isolation and risk their health.  The Government has introduced home- and community-based care for families and children affected by HIV/AIDS.

          Ageing in the context of development is one of the issues that need to be addressed in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  Older persons, through their wealth of knowledge and in their position as custodians of values, can make an invaluable contribution to NEPAD.  In August, South Africa will host the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  The Summit’s theme -- People, Prosperity and the Planet, speaks directly to the global challenge of the rapid growth in the number of older persons in developed and developing countries and the need to eradicate poverty in developing countries.  Older persons are the custodians of our traditions, our heritage and our cultures.  They reflect our past and are the mirrors of our future.  They have the right to a healthy, productive life, to live in a caring environment and to be treated with respect.
     

          ABASS EL FASSI, Minister of Employment, of Professional Training, Social Development and Solidarity of Morocco:  We attach a great deal of importance to social development.  Our national efforts to that end have yielded important results, among which were initiatives to ensure basic services and education.  We have also focused on the situation of our elderly population, namely, setting up clubs, providing health care and sensitizing the population to the concerns of older people. We have also created programmes to eradicate the notion of exclusion and marginalization of the elderly.  All this has been accompanied by social health-care reforms, with the specific concerns of the elderly in mind.  A fund was set up which consolidated such programmes with the country’s overall efforts to achieve sustainable development.

          On the occasion of this Assembly, we undertook a national study of the country’s elderly.  That study illustrated the important role of social security networks and family caretakers, and revealed which categories of elderly were most vulnerable.  It also highlighted the importance of the elderly in Moroccan culture, as well as the important role that can be played by NGOs in raising the level of awareness among the general population of the situation of the elderly. There is a growing realization that there is no need to promote programmes and initiatives for other segments of the population at the expense of our elderly, who continue to play a vital role at all levels.  We also noticed our elderly population will ultimately reach 21 per cent by 2060. 

    Our overall efforts to ensure the health and welfare of our elderly populations are based as much on the Vienna Action Plan on Ageing and the Arab Plan on Ageing as on our own cultural heritage.  Those efforts include such actions as revising the laws guaranteeing the rights of elderly people and ensuring their social integration.  Remaining faithful to international ageing strategies, we will pursue all efforts towards implementation of the decisions reached here.  This will be done according to our religious values and cultural heritage.  It is necessary that all global actors deploy international mechanisms to allow for the apportionment of resources to help the elderly, particularly in underdeveloped countries.  Other actions should be oriented to allow all populations to live in peaceful coexistence.  This is particularly true of the situation of the Palestinian people, who continue to be the target of infringement on their rights.

          JAVIER LOZANO BARRAGAN, observer for the Holy See, reading a letter from Pope John Paul II:  In the divine plan, longevity becomes the gift of the fulfilment of life that receives meaning from the wisdom of the heart.  Older persons are the guardians of the collective memory.  They have the perspective of both the past and the future, living in a present that already takes on the sense of eternity and serenity.  Their life must converge in inter-generational relationships transmitting to all people the treasures of their time, their capacity and experiences.  In the present culture of global productivity, they face the danger of considering themselves as not being useful.  However, their mere presence must prove that the economic aspect is neither the sole nor the most important value.

          Although it is better to grow old in one’s own family, we find an increasing number of abandoned older persons.  The Catholic Church tries to help them, even in the economic aspects.  Facing the marginalization of older persons in the present society and taking a perspective of the future, one sees the necessity for creating an inclusive society for all ages in which the older persons will have their place, especially women and the underprivileged.  The Holy See would suggest basic actions within the family, the community and all of society, including: promotion of inter-generational solidarity, access of older persons to all basic social services, including health care, provision of special care to older persons who suffer from mental diseases such as Alzheimers, introduction of older persons to communication and information technology, and promotion of inter-generational education.

          Poverty can increase in old age, especially in emergency situations or situations of armed conflict.  Social security systems and safety nets must be in place to protect the lives and well-being of all people.  The unpayable debt burden of developing countries must be eased for the eradication of poverty so that social services might be provided to vulnerable populations, especially older persons. The movement of people -- migration and displacements -- have contributed to the disintegration of the family.  As a result, too many older persons are left alone or are forced to care of children who are abandoned or separated from parents and home.  The international community must do all it can in order to ease the burdens faced by older persons in all countries and all levels of society. Older persons must be seen as one of society’s treasures.
     

          VIRGILIA MATABELA, Minister for Women’s Affairs and Social Action of Mozambique:  The current ageing situation is not a problem of northern countries alone.  The ageing population will increase mainly in the developing countries, where it represents a great challenge.  In Mozambique, the aged population is estimated at 4.5 per cent.  While the increase of the older population may lead to an improvement of living conditions, it would require a doubling of efforts by the country to meet the challenges of this new reality.

    It would be good if everybody could see older people as the bridge to our past and our future.  They have built the nations we are so proud of today.  We recognize that our future can only shine if we reconcile our dreams with the dreams of our parents and grandparents.  We must capitalize on the experiences gathered along the way of many years of hardship.  Older people are living libraries.  In Africa, older people are the oral sources of history.  For us, they are the link between the new generations and our forefathers.  Therefore, we have a moral obligation to honour all those who contributed to the building of a new and harmonious world.

    In developing countries, the challenges for survival are enormous and older people are sometimes neglected and abandoned.  Every citizen must value older people and guard against neglect and abandonment.  We know we have to give better health care to older people, and improve direct assistance in subsidies of foodstuffs for families in poverty.  Mozambique is creating a national policy to provide assistance to this group.  Improving the role of the elderly is important because they are the rich roots of our culture.  With the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the role of the older people doubles, as they are required to care for orphans and teach the younger generation about infections.

          MARGO VLIEGENTHART, State Secretary of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands: Ageing concerns all of us. The progressively larger number of elderly impacts all facets of society -- health, economy, labour, care, welfare and the family.  The task facing the international community is to find answers to all the challenges that ageing poses.  While at this moment the wealthier countries are particularly challenged by the problem, the developing world is also experiencing rapid population changes.  Indeed, without exception, a shift between the numbers of younger and older people will occur in all countries.  This circumstance imposes requirements that must be addressed by everyone, regardless of age.

          In large parts of the industrialized world, a declining youth population will soon have to bear the costs of a population growing ever older.  That will be felt most particularly in social welfare systems.  Equally, young people in other parts of the world will have to take care of their senior citizens, whether financially or through direct care in family settings.  Now is the time to prepare for these eventualities.  We must think ahead to avoid falling behind.  Our economic systems must continue to be productive, with men and women contributing to a robust labour market.

          We need to look at work and care more from the perspective of full life cycles.  Older people will continue to derive pleasure from performing paid or voluntary work.  Employers must make allowances for a workforce that will increasingly include a growing number of older persons, and young employees will have to get used to the idea of working alongside their older colleagues. Enhancing and promoting solidarity between generations will, therefore, become more and more important in the years to come.  Indeed, the rights of older people will have to be recognized.  Wherever they live, older people will need basic facilities such as health care and access to pensions.  The ability to provide such facilities depends upon each country’s economic situation, however.

          Solidarity between generations translates into solidarity between rich and poor.  Working to provide economic opportunities for less developed nations can provide the most important stepping stones for identifying initiatives that can help their older citizens.  Older people need to have a voice of their own -- they need to have a say in society.  Governments can ensure that the voices of the elderly can be heard by creating policies that addressed the needs of the elderly, and allowing senior citizens representatives to make contributions at all levels in their communities. 
     

          KARELOVA, G.N., First Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Development of the Russian Federation:  The Government and civil society agree that respect for the elderly has been an unchanging sign of human civilization.  The older generation serves as a link between the past, the present and the future.  The twenty-first century has seen a period of great change for the Russian Federation, as it became democratic and market oriented.  The Government is trying to reduce the number of low-income citizens.

    Today, the country has more than 30 million elderly people, which constitutes 18 per cent of the total population.  The long-range forecast is in line with world trends.  That is why enhancing the quality of life for the elderly and their role in society is a priority for the Government.  At the transitional stage of the economy, many elderly people need assistance from society.  The Government has raised the level of legal safeguards, and pension reform has taken place.  Programmes for social protection of the elderly have been implemented.  A government programme must ensure appropriate market conditions to solve the problems they face.  We are considering the organization of social services for the elderly.  The infrastructure of the system of social services for the elderly covers the whole of the Russian Federation.  Social services are located close to the places where elderly people live.  Each year, more than 40 million elderly people, while staying in their homes, enjoy the services of social service centres and emergency assistance centres.  Reform is aimed at ensuring high quality social and health assistance, particularly to people over 85.

          Improvements in welfare for the elderly are lagging behind expectations. There is poverty and loneliness among the elderly.  Success in the strategy to improve the quality of life is linked to improvement of development of the Russian Federation.

          MARIA MENOUDAKOU-BELDEKOU, Secretary-General for Welfare of Greece:  The improvement in my country’s health and living conditions has contributed to the overall ageing process. In our tradition, living to a healthy old age is a positive given.  Older people can generally expect to live a full life after their working life, under conditions that have been restructured and rethought.  Ageing itself has become an important process in the life cycle of the whole country.  We have learned that maintaining health, active family involvement and adequate quality of life throughout the life cycle can do much to help build better lives and to maintain a harmonious and inter-generational community.

          With all this in mind, a coordinated and comprehensive approach is needed to meet the challenges of the coming decades.  The phenomenon of ageing has to be addressed and integrated into development planning schemes.  Policies and services should take into account the specific needs of an older population.  We must also establish strategies that anticipate the ageing phenomenon so that we may prepare for it, while we work actively to enhance and strengthen inter-generational relationships.

     
          The Greek Government’s vision is of a society for all ages, where older people lead safe, healthy and independent lives.  Our goal is to ensure positive ageing, where people continued to contribute to society regardless of age.  Our tasks include, among other things, securing conditions for a longer active homelife, reducing reliance on institutional care for the elderly and developing community level participation.  An example of our successful policies is the establishment of open care centres for the elderly, which provide preventive health services, social support and pension allowance to all uninsured elderly persons.

    GENEVA RUTHERFORD, Vice-President of the Senate of the Bahamas:  The Bahamas is a young nation where 29.4 per cent of the population is under 15, while those 60 and over make up about 8 per cent.  It is projected, however, that by the year 2025, those 60 and older will increase to over 17.6 per cent of the population. Adequate health care is accessible and affordable for all. Today, we are a healthy Bahamas and life expectancy rates are currently 70.7 years for men and 77.3 years for women.  We recognize the need to focus attention on both ends of the spectrum -- the young and the old -- and we are now in a unique position to develop policies and programmes for addressing issues of concern to older persons while that segment of the population is still relatively small.


    The most significant outcome of our recent celebration of the International Year of Older Persons was the preparation of a National Policy for Older Persons in 2002 -- a first for the Bahamas.  Implementation of this plan calls for specific action over a sustained period, and while much remains to be done, we are nonetheless pleased with the progress that has been made within our limited resources.  Our initiatives have resulted in universal health care for all persons 60 and over, and all government clinics provide medications free of charge to persons over the age of 65.  Several private pharmacies provide senior discounts on medicines.  In 2000, the Ministry of Health implemented a five-year plan to address the health of the nation, which includes an initiative designed to achieve a healthy ageing population.  An integral part of the plan includes a national education and awareness programme on healthy ageing, targeting individuals 40 years and older.  By 2003, it will include a weekly geriatric community clinic in all polyclinics in New Providence and Grand Bahama, the two islands with the bulk of our ageing population. 
     
    While the Government bears the basic responsibility of providing services for the people, a number of partnerships have been forged in the last five years, primarily with NGOs and religious institutions, to provide services for the elderly.  We are particularly enthusiastic about the concept of inter-generational centres.  Those centres, located in residential communities in New Providence, have been built by the Government and are run by our churches.  They combine residential care for elderly persons with day care services for infants and toddlers.  The positive interaction between the two groups and the surrounding community has clearly indicated that the concept is successful and worth replicating throughout the Bahamas and beyond.
     

    ADALGISA ABREU SANCHEZ, Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Welfare of the Dominican Republic:  We support the spirit of this World Assembly and welcome efforts to devise positive activities to the benefit of older persons of the world.  In 1982, the Dominican Republic was one of the Vice-Presidents of the First World Assembly on Ageing.  Since that time, the country has put forward consistent proposals to the United Nations to increase the quality of life of older people, particularly in developing countries.

          In 1998 and as a result of the International Year of Older Persons, our country promulgated a code for the rights of older persons.  Last year, a law on health was adopted which stipulates that there will be broader coverage of better health services to the poor.  That, together with the creation of the social security system, constitute social tools that can be used to meet the various needs of older people, who will participate actively.

          As a society, we must address the situation of abuse and abandonment of older people, which is a violation of their human rights.  We propose a convention to reinforce and ratify the agreements reached in the Plan of Action.  We will only be able to build a just society if we change the current system of inequity and injustice.
     

          ZALMAI HAGANI, Ambassador of Afghanistan to France:  It is extremely important for me to represent the Interim Administration of Afghanistan.  We are moving into a new phase of our history, aiming to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as establishing a framework for the country’s overall sustained economic and social development following 23 years of conflict and destruction.  In all our efforts, we thank the United Nations and its relevant agencies and funds.  The world is facing a global phenomenon as the numbers of elderly persons begin to overtake the number of younger persons.  We know that, proportionally speaking, older women outnumber men.  We can see that the causes for this phenomenon are many, including improved health care and shifts in birth and death rates.

          This phenomenon exists for Afghanistan, as well.  While the demographic shifts in our country mirror the general situation around the world, the effects are particularly exacerbated by isolation and the breakdown of the family unit following so many years of violence and deprivation.  The Interim Government is doing everything in its power to help address the various social and development issues in the wake of the protracted violence, particularly those which have seriously affected the elderly population.  At present, everything we do depends largely on the amount of economic support we receive.  I would like to call on this distinguished Assembly to support our efforts as we await the further support of the wider international community.

          IVAN SIMONOVIC (Croatia), President of the Economic and Social Council:  The time has come to explore together the nature and scope of demographic ageing throughout the world and the impact this has had on the individual, the family, society, as well as on economies and cultures.  In this, the significant gender dimension must not be overlooked.  I would like to emphasize that the adoption of commitments and guiding principles of major United Nations conferences and summits during the past years have played a significant role in advancing the framework for policies on ageing.

          In addition to its responsibilities to the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development, the Commission for Social Development supported the preparatory process for the Second World Assembly on Ageing by serving as its preparatory committee.  The Commission on Population and Development has been examining and assessing the trends, determinants and consequences of population ageing.  A major task of the Commission is to monitor, review and assess the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development at the national, regional and international level.  In this context, I want to emphasize the importance of mainstreaming the subject of ageing in the global agenda.

          The Economic and Social Council is a coordinating body, establishing links with and among functional commissions on cross-cutting issues in the economic and social field.  In addition, the Council is committed to providing guidance to the United Nations on how to ensure a coordinated follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits.  The follow-up process of this World Assembly would provide an opportunity for the Council to become a key global platform to enhance policy coherence in the area of ageing among global partners.  This Assembly is a unique opportunity for setting practical targets and agreeing upon concrete action for implementation.  These next few days can lay the foundation for a society that is more just and inclusive for all.

          THORAYA AHMED OBAID, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), also on behalf of Mark Malloch-Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP):  The graying of the planet represents the most significant population shift in history.  Today, people are living longer than ever before.  While this is an accomplishment worthy of celebration, our joy is tempered by the awareness that in some countries gains in life expectancy are being rolled back by the ravages of HIV/AIDS.  We are at a critical juncture.  With world populations increasing so rapidly, the next few decades will test our ability to address health-care issues, retirement and pension benefits, as well as other issues related to senior citizens.  While many people are living longer, they are facing a future without a social safety net.

          We are gathered in Madrid to ensure that older persons have a future worth living -- conditions not characterized by poverty, loneliness, poor health, abuse and discrimination.  The issues of ageing must be at the centre of the global development agenda.  We will never adequately address poverty without reducing the overwhelming poverty that afflicts older people.  Today, many of the 400 million older persons living in developing countries are living below the poverty line. Meeting the Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2050 requires that poverty reduction strategies focus not only on the poorest persons, but on the most vulnerable elderly, especially women.  We must also concentrate on breaking the cycle of poverty that runs from one generation to the next.

          Research commissioned by the UNFPA in India and South Africa last year found that the main concerns of older people include inadequate living conditions, lack of access to social service, and inter-generational violence and abuse.  Poverty among the elderly is also linked to low literacy levels, especially women, as well as low levels of health, lack of awareness and access to information.  Older people identified their priority needs as food security, clean water, good health, adequate accommodation and supporting caring for their families.  Due to the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS virus, elderly people were increasingly acting as caregivers for their adult children, as well as their orphaned grandchildren, despite their own precarious situations.

          In all our efforts, we should not underestimate the role that cultural values and traditions play in older peoples lives.  Culture conditions the attitudes and behaviour of older people and the perceptions and practices of the society around them.  We must build on positive cultural values to encourage the protection and respect of older persons.  This is particularly true of older women living in societies where gender-based violence and mental or emotional abuse goes ignored.  We need laws and policies to promote the welfare of ageing, but we also need to work at the community level to make sure legal policy changes are sustainable.

          YITZHAK BRICK, President, International Federation on Ageing:  The International Federation on Ageing is a diverse membership that includes grass-roots organizations and service providers in 50 countries.  Its core mission is to improve the quality of life of older persons and enhance their rights.  During the International Year of Older Persons in 1999, the Federation produced the Montreal Declaration on rights of older persons.  It has conducted a global study among 30,000 older adults and those working with them from 71 countries.

          The study reveals that the elderly believe that in many parts of the world the quality of life has deteriorated over the last decade.  The worst situation is in the developing countries, where 87 per cent of respondents from low-income countries believed that the situation of elderly persons is worse than it was 10 years ago.  Based on studies undertaken by the Federation and consultation with other NGOs, we have identified a number of key issues that require immediate action.

         Some of the recommendations include:  governments should develop and adopt procedures and ways for including older citizens in policy discussions and decision-making; governments should implement flexible retirement-age policies which allow people to move in and out of the workplace throughout their life; governments must commit themselves to taking concrete actions to prevent and eliminate the neglect and abuse of older peoples; and NGOs should be invited to be equal partners with governments in shaping new policies and in the provision of programmes and services.  The United Nations programme on ageing needs to be strengthened if it is to fulfil the mandate given by Madrid.  An extrabudgetary fund has to be created to support field experiments and pilot programmes.  The funds could be administered jointly by established international NGOs, with consultation and the support of the United Nations programme on ageing.

          ANNA DIAMANTOPOULOU, Commissioner responsible for Employment and Social Affairs of the European Commission:  People in many parts of the world are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.  This offers the opportunity for a new life model -- a new society where men and women can have new roles and new lifestyles.  This is most probably a reflection of all the technological and scientific advances of the last century. Yet somehow, this positive trend is being portrayed as the latest “bad news”.  Of course, the statistics seem alarming, especially in Europe, where one person in three will be at least 60 years old by 2050.

    All of this has major social and economic implications.  But what we are primarily facing is the failure or reluctance to address two major problems -- we are failing to replace our populations, with low birth rates causing widespread demographic distortions, and we are encouraging people to have shorter working lives, just at the time when they are ready to take more responsibilities.  The policy implications are clear.  We need to bring our populations back into balance.  And we need to take a much more positive view of immigration if we are to deliver the improved quality of life that longevity will bring us.

    Ageing affects not just older people but all ages and all social policies. That is why the European Union has taken positive steps to address the coming challenges.  We recognize that women are at the heart of the ageing challenge.  But they are also at the heart of the ageing solution.  Women bear the lion’s share of responsibilities, not only of caring for children, but caring for dependent older people as well. 

    We must work to create a society where women and men share responsibilities. Such notions can never be achieved without concrete action.  We are working actively to raise the employment rates of women in the European Union.  We are also working on child care.  We are working to ensure gender integration at all levels and in all policies.  Recently, the Union has endorsed a new report on active ageing in Europe to enable people to continue to contribute to society as they age.  We are working closely with our Member States to put more emphasis on jobs and skills training for our elderly populations.  We are also enhancing our laws to end discrimination on the basis of age.  We support the United Nations call for coordinated international support to implement initiatives on ageing and will continue to work with relevant agencies and funds to that end.

     

     

     


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