Peo­ple at heart of bal­anced growth

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - ARMIDA SALSIAH ALISJAHBANA NATALIA KANEM Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the United Na­tions Eco­nomic and So­cial Com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pa­cific. Natalia Kanem is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund.

MIN­IS­TERS and se­nior pol­i­cy­mak­ers across Asia and the Pa­cific gath­ered in Bangkok last month to fo­cus on pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ics at a cru­cial time for the re­gion. Their goal: to keep peo­ple and hu­man rights at the heart of the re­gion’s push for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. They con­sid­ered how suc­cess­ful we have been in bal­anc­ing eco­nomic growth with so­cial im­per­a­tives, un­der­pinned by rights and choices for all, as en­shrined in the land­mark pro­gramme of ac­tion stem­ming from the 1994 In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Pop­u­la­tion and De­vel­op­ment (ICPD).

It merged di­verse views on pop­u­la­tion, gen­der equal­ity, sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health, and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment with a re­mark­able global con­sen­sus that placed hu­man dig­nity and rights at the heart of de­vel­op­ment.

Truly rev­o­lu­tion­ary at the time, the ICPD re­mains all the more ur­gent and rel­e­vant a quar­ter-cen­tury later, and goes hand-in-hand with the United Na­tions’ 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment and its Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals.

How well have we re­sponded to trends such as pop­u­la­tion age­ing and in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion? How suc­cess­ful have we been in en­sur­ing op­ti­mal sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health and rights for all, in­clud­ing the right to choose when or whether to get mar­ried and when or whether to have chil­dren, and how many? How well have we done in strength­en­ing gen­der equal­ity and em­pow­er­ing women, and up­hold­ing the rights of the most vul­ner­a­ble among us? Where should our ef­forts be re­fo­cused to leave no one be­hind?

Asia and the Pa­cific have much to cel­e­brate. The re­gion re­mains the en­gine of global growth and at the fore­front of the global fight against poverty. It is home to half the world’s mid­dle class. The share of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in poverty has dropped con­sid­er­ably al­though it is still un­ac­cept­ably high. Peo­ple are liv­ing longer, health­ier lives. Rights-based fam­ily plan­ning has contributed to con­sid­er­able eco­nomic success and women’s em­pow­er­ment, and we are on track to achieve univer­sal ed­u­ca­tion by 2030.

Yet for all this growth, con­sid­er­able in­jus­tice re­mains. On its cur­rent tra­jec­tory, the re­gion will fall short of achiev­ing the 2030 Agenda, and in sev­eral ar­eas we are head­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. In­equal­ity is grow­ing within and be­tween coun­tries. Some 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple live in poverty, of which 400 mil­lion live in ex­treme poverty, in­clud­ing Myan­mar. Lack of de­cent jobs and ac­cess to es­sen­tial ser­vices are per­pet­u­at­ing in­jus­tice across gen­er­a­tions.

Three main ar­eas of con­cern At the UN Eco­nomic and So­cial Com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pa­cific (ESCAP) and the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund, we are keen to spot­light three key is­sues where re­gional com­mit­ment is vi­tal.

First, we need to re­spond to the un­prece­dented pop­u­la­tion changes un­fold­ing across the re­gion. Many coun­tries are fac­ing a rapidly age­ing pop­u­la­tion. The num­ber of peo­ple above age 60 is ex­pected to more than dou­ble by 2050. Ef­fec­tively meet­ing the needs of an age­ing society and en­sur­ing healthy and pro­duc­tive lives must be a pri­or­ity. This re­quires a life cy­cle ap­proach – from preg­nancy and child­birth, through ado­les­cence and adult­hood, to old age – en­sur­ing that all peo­ple are al­lowed to ful­fil their so­cioe­co­nomic po­ten­tial.

Equally, there is a strong case for strength­en­ing Asia-pa­cific’s re­sponse to in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion. Mi­grants can, when al­lowed, con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, we know that mi­grants are vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion and abuse, so our am­bi­tion is to build fur­ther mo­men­tum in sup­port of safe, or­derly and reg­u­lar mi­gra­tion to fully har­ness its de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fits.

Sec­ond, there is clear ev­i­dence the re­gion must spend more on so­cial pro­tec­tion, as well as on health­care and ed­u­ca­tion. To­day, so­cial pro­tec­tion is the pre­serve of a few, rather than a right for all. As a re­sult, 60 per­cent of our pop­u­la­tion are at risk of be­ing trapped in, or pushed into, poverty by sick­ness, dis­abil­ity, un­em­ploy­ment or old age, of­ten un­der­pinned by gen­der in­equal­ity. The “So­cial Out­look for Asia and the Pa­cific: Poorly Pro­tected”, which ESCAP pub­lished last month, sets out why ex­pand­ing so­cial pro­tec­tion is the most ef­fec­tive way to re­duce poverty, strengthen rights and make vul­ner­a­ble groups less ex­posed. Many women, mi­grants, se­niors and ru­ral peo­ple would also ben­e­fit. Our ev­i­dence sug­gests it could even end ex­treme poverty in sev­eral coun­tries by 2030.

Third, we need to in­vest in gen­er­at­ing dis­ag­gre­gated data to tell us who is be­ing left be­hind to en­sure that our re­sponse to pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ics is tar­geted and cred­i­ble. Avail­abil­ity of data on so­cial and de­mo­graphic is­sues lags far be­hind eco­nomic data. Mil­lions of births re­main un­reg­is­tered, lead­ing to the de­nial of many ba­sic rights, par­tic­u­larly to women and girls. Of the 43 coun­tries that con­ducted a cen­sus be­tween 2005 and 2014, only 16 have reliable data on in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion. With the 2020 round of cen­suses upon us, we will be re­dou­bling our ef­forts to close th­ese data gaps by strength­en­ing part­ner­ships for data ca­pac­ity and work­ing with gov­ern­ments and other part­ners to trans­late data into poli­cies and ac­tion.

ESCAP and the fund stand united in their com­mit­ment to sup­port ef­forts by mem­ber states to build and strengthen a re­gional re­sponse to is­sues that will shape the fu­ture.

We look to gal­vanise coun­tries be­hind the am­bi­tion and vi­sion that link the ICPD and the Goals and ac­cel­er­ate work to leave no one be­hind in the re­gion.

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