Opening statement at the Midterm Review of the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development

Delivered at UNCC in Bangkok, Thailand

Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Advisor to the Royal Thai Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Ms. Londén,
Excellencies,
Very distinguished delegates,

Welcome to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific - UN ESCAP - and to the Mid-Term Review of the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population Development. I am delighted to be with you, and to be opening this review with Ms. Londén from the UN Population Fund, UNFPA.

Population dynamics are both drivers and outcomes of sustainable development. Today, population and development dynamics such as ageing, fertility decline, urbanisation and migration are common to many parts of our region. They require proactive responses, if we are to achieve the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This midterm review is crucial to keep our effort on track as we work to balance economic growth with social imperatives.

So where do we stand? As we all know, Asia and the Pacific has much to celebrate. Our region remains the engine of global growth and at the forefront of the global fight against poverty. It is now home to half the world’s middle class. The share of those living in poverty is still too high but has dropped considerably. People are living longer, healthier lives. Achieving gender equality is increasingly being recognised as a priority. Access to education has been radically improved.

Yet on its current trajectory, Asia and the Pacific will fall short of achieving all the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, save universal education. In several areas the region is heading in the wrong direction. Inequalities within and between countries are widening. And population changes are exacerbating these challenges. The evidence is clear: older persons, migrants, the sick and disabled, and many women are particularly vulnerable to being denied access to essential services, entrenching poverty and perpetuating inequality.

With these challenges in mind, let me mention just three areas where regional commitment is vital.

First, the unprecedented population changes unfolding across the Asia-Pacific region require a coordinated response. Many countries have a rapidly ageing population. The proportion of the people aged over sixty is expected to double to a quarter of the region’s population by 2050. Efficiently meeting the needs of an ageing society and ensuring healthy and productive lives, must be a priority.

This means promoting health services and policies that promote and enable active ageing, better integrating health care services and making it more attractive for health care workers to operate in rural areas. It also means improving lifelong learning and employment opportunities, to ensure our economies as well as our societies benefit from older persons’ experience. I am looking forward to hearing about the work I know many of you are undertaking. And your thoughts on where positive experiences can be further replicated.

Second, we need stronger regional response to increasing migration. Most international migration happens in Asia and the Pacific, and mainly towards developing countries. There are some 62 million migrants in our region, up by twenty percent since 1990. Despite the contribution they make, migrants are exposed to exploitation and abuse. They are particularly likely to be denied access to essential services. So, I hope discussions this week can build further momentum to support safe, orderly and regular migration, ahead of discussions on the Global Compact in Marrakesh later this year.

Third, to respond effectively to the major population shifts underway, we must join forces to improve our evidence base. We need disaggregated data to tell us who is being left behind. The availability of reliable and timely demographic data remains limited. Data on social issues lags far behind anything related to the economy. Millions of births remain unregistered, leading to the denial of essential public services, particularly for women and girls. Of 43 countries which conducted a census between 2005 and 2014, only 16 have reliable data on international migration.

With the 2020 censuses approaching, there is a strong case for strengthening our partnerships to close these data gaps. There are valuable initiatives underway to stop these gaps occurring. ASEAN has taken an initiative to promote universal birth registration, prevent statelessness and improve the recognition of basic human rights for vulnerable groups. In South Asia, eight countries are reviewing their legal frameworks to ensure registration and citizenship is equally accessible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Midterm Review of the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration is an opportunity to accelerate a common response. As a region, we can give scale to individual countries’ work on ageing, migration, youth and population. At UN ESCAP, we are committed to supporting the sharing of best practice on policies in all these areas. We are helping countries to build capacities to do so. I hope your deliberations will give further momentum to our collective effort, accelerate work to meet the needs of older persons and migrants, and improve data to leave no one behind in Asia and the Pacific.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you a successful conference.