Press Releases

    9 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 8 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of today’s address to the Madrid NGO Forum on Ageing by Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

    Thank you very much, dear Mr. President, and let me thank you all for your very warm welcome and also the very heartfelt and enthusiastic way you wished me a happy birthday despite my age. I am really delighted to be here.

    I know that in the past few days you have had extensive discussions on several issues that are crucial to our goal of helping older people lead the safe and dignified lives they deserve.

    We live in a world that is already being profoundly transformed by globalization and migration. As economic and social forces compel more and more people to give up their traditional lifestyle, relationships within families and across generations are being put under a great strain, and older persons are often paying the highest price. Losing traditional support and social networks, they are increasingly at risk of isolation and marginalization. The shrinking size of the working population could put them at even greater risk of being left without adequate financial and health care.

    There is no time to lose. We must start preparing now for a rapidly growing older population. Today, the world counts some 600 million persons aged 60 or older. In less than 50 years, they will be almost 2 billion, representing 21 per cent of the world population. It is expected that in 2050, for the first time in history, there will be more people over 60 than under 15.

    The ageing of the population is a global phenomenon, but its pace is much faster in developing countries, where the older population is expected to multiply by four over the next 50 years. This extraordinary demographic revolution will require serious preparation and planning, not least in the developing countries most affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis, where older people are already having to care for hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by the disease. And there are 13 million of them in the world today. I am, therefore, happy to see that the non-governmental organization (NGO) community from the developing world that are represented here are so actively engaged in this issue.

    You, NGOs, are often closest to those in need. From your activities on the ground, you have acquired great expertise of what works and what doesn’t. You and people like you throughout the world can forge powerful coalitions to commit to the goal of building truly inclusive societies and turning the concept of "society for all ages" from slogan and aspiration into everyday reality. Such coalitions can really make things happen -- as we have seen with the worldwide movement which led to an international ban on landmines, or the campaign for debt relief for poor countries.

    Of course, governments have the primary responsibility for the well-being of their older populations. But they will need to work in partnership to build a society that is adapted to the realities of the twenty-first century. They will need your help and your ideas, as well as those of other actors, such as the private sector, international organizations, educators and health professionals, and, of course, associations of older people themselves. We must all rethink our ways of living, working and caring for one another.

    In that spirit, I wish you fruitful debates in the last two days of your Forum. With you, I look forward to the day when, all over the world, older people will know that they are not a category apart, but individuals whose wisdom and experience we cherish, and we are, therefore, happy to provide for their needs. I hope that the day will come sooner rather than later, for I am not that young anymore myself.

    Thank you very much and also for your best wishes earlier.

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