13 February 2006

Commission for Social Development Focuses Attention on Issues Concerning Older Persons Youth, Persons with Disabilities

NEW YORK, 10 February (UN Headquarters) -- As the Commission on Social Development turned its attention toward the situation of vulnerable segments of society, including youth, persons with disabilities and older persons, discussions focused on preparations under way for the five-year review and appraisal of a landmark United Nations action plan for improving the quality of life of older persons.

The Commission, at its current session, will consider possible arrangements for next year's review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. Adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, the Plan recognized the potential of older people to contribute to the development of their societies, and committed Member States to include ageing in all social and economic development policies.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Austria's representative said that the number of people over the age of 65 in the Union was set to increase remarkably from now until 2030, while the number of younger people would fall sharply. That was the result of simultaneous increases in life expectancy, ageing of the so-called "baby boom" generation and low birth rates. It was both an opportunity and a challenge, requiring determined policy measures to maximize the benefits to society as a whole.  He welcomed the continued growth in longevity as an important achievement, as older persons were a valuable resource and made an essential contribution to society. The Union was focusing particularly on the situation of older women, who were at the greatest risk of poverty.

Elderly persons were the most marginalized and poorest group in society, the representative of the non-governmental organization HelpAge International told the Commission. More than 10 per cent of those living on less than $1 a day were over 60. Now, more than ever before, the voice of older persons must be heard so that international commitments and policies included their concerns. Noting that many in Latin America were ageing in poverty, due to lack of health care and jobs and decades of impoverishment, she stressed that all citizens, irrespective of age, must have access to education, health and regular income in their later years.

Among the issues raised during an afternoon panel on the upcoming review of the Madrid Plan of Action were the difficulties facing older persons in the area of health care; their special problems living in rural areas; illiteracy and lack of awareness of laws and rights; and efforts at the regional level in assessing implementation of the Plan.

Presentations were made by Mery Lozana de Aranibar from Bolivia, Bienvenido Rola from the Philippines, and Irina Nicolae Baicalov from the Republic of Moldova, as well as representatives from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Also today, the Commission heard a presentation on a technical cooperation project entitled "Tackling Poverty Together: The Role of Young People in Poverty Reduction", co-implemented by the United Nations Programme on Youth and the National Council of Swedish Youth Organizations. The project sought to advance the role of young people in poverty eradication efforts, with a regional focus on Africa.

Johan Schölvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, said that, in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, the need to work with young people was clear. It was estimated that over 102 million young people in sub-Saharan Africa lived on less than $2 a day. The region also had the second largest number of undernourished young people, accounting for 25 per cent of the global total.  The issue of youth poverty in Africa was also inextricably linked to youth employment, with 21 per cent of the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa unemployed. That was the second highest youth unemployment rate in the world, exceeded only by the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment was 25.6 per cent.

The overall objective of the project, Julie Larsen from the United Nations Programme on Youth told delegates, was to work directly with young people and other stakeholders to identify and strengthen the role of youth in poverty reduction strategies. The project -- which included two workshops involving representatives from approximately 25 different youth organizations from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Sweden, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia -- aimed to further an understanding of youth poverty as experienced by young people.  She stressed the need to become very serious about engaging young people in efforts to ensure they became the last generation for which poverty was still a part of their lives.

Statements in the general discussion were also made today by the representatives of Bangladesh, Cuba, China, Spain, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Haiti and Sierra Leone (on behalf of the African Group).

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also spoke: International Federation of Associations of the Elderly; Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace; International Federation on Ageing; and International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 13 February, to continue its general discussion.


The Commission for Social Development met today to continue its general discussion.  It was expected to begin by hearing a presentation by the Division for Social Policy and Development on a technical cooperation project entitled "Tackling Poverty Together:  The Role of Young People in Poverty Reduction".

(For background on the Commission's forty-fourth session, see Press Release SOC/4692 issued on 2 February.)

Presentation on Technical Cooperation Project

JOHAN SCHÖLVINCK, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, presented the project called "Tackling Poverty Together:  The Role of Young People in Poverty Reduction", which related to the need to find innovative ways of turning "documents into action".  That initiative of the United Nations Programme on Youth worked to advance the role of young people in efforts to eradicate poverty, with a regional focus on Africa.  During the recent 10-year review of the World Programme of Action on Youth, the situation of young people living in poverty was identified as an area requiring greater attention in both policy dialogues and operational activities.  The World Youth Report 2005 noted that little was known about the extent and dimensions of youth poverty, and as such, young people were often overlooked in poverty reduction efforts.

In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, he said the need to work with young people was clear.  The World Youth Report 2005 estimated that over 102 million young people in sub-Saharan Africa lived on less than $2 a day.  The region also contained the second largest number of undernourished young people, accounting for 25 per cent of the global total.  The issue of youth poverty in Africa was also inextricably linked to youth employment.  The recently released Economic Report on Africa 2005 noted that the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 138 million people in 2002-2003, with 28.9 million or 21 per cent, unemployed.  That was the second highest youth unemployment rate in the world, exceeded only by the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment was 25.6 per cent.

JULIE LARSEN, United Nations Programme on Youth, Division for Social Policy and Development, said the overall objective of the project was to work directly with young people and other stakeholders to identify and strengthen the role of youth in poverty reduction strategies.  The project aimed to:  further an understanding of youth poverty as experienced by young people; identify factors to be considered in effective poverty reduction strategies for youth; review poverty reduction strategies in Africa in order to identify opportunities for youth involvement; and assist young people in developing skills to strengthen their role in national poverty reduction efforts.  It also aimed to foster partnerships and collaboration, and to create a model for strengthening youth policy development that involved cooperation between the youth organizations, Governments and the United Nations system.

She said the project was developed, at least initially, to include two workshops involving representatives from approximately 25 different youth organizations from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Sweden, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia.  The first workshop, held in Ndola, Zambia, in October 2005, explored the concept of youth poverty and examined existing poverty reduction efforts.  Participants worked to create action plans, which contained concrete steps towards greater inclusion of youth in the poverty reduction efforts of their countries.  The second workshop, to be held in Kampala, Uganda, in March, would focus on reviewing the strategic plans and discussing problems encountered, lessons learned and future directions for that work.

Some of the themes that the youth participants had identified for the second workshop were:  concerted work on real job creation for young people; extending special forms of microfinance to young people; and further discussions on the needs of two special interest groups -- youth living with disabilities and young refugees.  Outlining some of the components which contributed to the project's initial progress, she highlighted partnership with the National Council of Swedish Youth Organizations, known as LSU, which had been important on many levels.  Among other things, the Council had existing partnerships with youth organizations in Africa and experience in peer-to-peer training, capacity-building and facilitation.  The other components included the existence of an advisory board, the diversity of youth organizations involved in the project and flexibility.

Among the challenges of the project were ensuring that it affected the lives of many, and not just a few; ensuring its long-term impact; and convincing new partners.  Also missing from the project was a solid outreach to the private sector.  The secret ingredient to breaking poverty cycles, she said, might well be the degree to which poverty reduction strategies empowered real people.  She stressed the need to become very serious about engaging young people in efforts to ensure they became the last generation for which poverty was still a part of their lives.


ISHRAT JAHAN AHMED (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, said she was pleased to note that the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities had made significant progress.  She looked forward to the early adoption of the convention.  The developing countries would be in urgent need of technical and financial support in preparing to become parties to the convention.  A broad-based approach in international cooperation was absolutely essential.  Bangladesh had adopted a National Policy for the development of persons with disabilities.  It also had a National Work Plan for the implementation of the policy.  A Disability Welfare Act had been enacted in 2001 and a Special Foundation for the Welfare of the disabled established.  The Government was working in close cooperation with civil society organizations to provide education, training and rehabilitation.

Concerning the issue of youth, she said youth were the catalyst for change and development.  The spirit of youth must be converted into a tool for change and progress.  Statistics showed that South Asia had the largest number of youth living below the two poverty lines, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.  Mainstreaming youth into the process of poverty eradication was a complex challenge.  Creating decent employment was necessary to sustain social development and, therefore, warranted concerted action.  Bangladesh was committed to the World Programme of Action for Youth.  With some 45 million youth, the Government had adopted a National Youth Policy and had taken programmes to convert youth into a productive work force.  Awareness programmes for youth on population and health care had been very effective, and youth could play a vital role through their involvement in community development.  Bangladesh attached special emphasis on promoting girls and young women's active participation in development activities.

Ageing remained a problem for both developed and developing countries, she said.  The Madrid Plan of Action required continuous action at both the national and international levels.  Bangladesh had been focusing on capacity-building in order to mainstream the cause of the ageing population into national development agendas.  In Bangladesh, some 5 million people were over the age of 60.  The Government had introduced targeted programmes for the aged population in line with the Madrid commitments, including old-age allowance programmes and funds for mitigating risks due to natural disasters, and budgetary allocations for all such allowances had been increased.

Any societal transformation began within the family, she continued, but poverty was one the main hindrances to the advancement of the family.  The Government and civil society recognized the central role of the family in societal development.  The world was at the crossroads of social development, as the commitments made at the world summits must be fulfilled and the plans of action executed.

GERHARD PFANZELTER (Austria), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the Union once again reiterated its determination to ensure a full and effective implementation of the commitments made in Copenhagen, as well as those agreed in the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome.  Since the Copenhagen Summit, the Union had developed its social policies internally.  More than 10 years after Copenhagen, despite the efforts made and progress achieved in socio-economic development, the situation of many developing countries, particularly in Africa and the least developed countries, as well as countries with economies in transition, required further action.  He welcomed, therefore, the Commission's commitment to continue implementing the Declaration and Programme of Action, in particular to, among other things, eradicate poverty; promote full, productive and freely chosen employment taking into account core labour standards; and foster social integration and equal access to social services.

Concerning disability issues, he welcomed the advancement by the Ad Hoc Committee on the development of an international convention on the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities.  Persons with disabilities still faced such problems as lack of access to employment, barriers to the physical environment and lack of access to mainstream education.  To tackle discrimination in the labour market, the Union had adopted legislation such as the Employment Equality Directive, which required employers to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled people to allow equal access to employment and vocational training.  The Union had also elaborated a medium-term action plan to better integrate persons with disabilities into European society.

On the issue of ageing, he noted that all countries, not only those in the European Union, faced the challenges of demographic change.  In the Union, the number of people over the age of 65 was set to increase remarkably from now until 2030, while the number of younger people would fall sharply.  That was the result of simultaneous increases in life expectancy, ageing of the so-called "baby boom" generation and low birth rates.  It was both an opportunity and a challenge, requiring determined policy measures to maximize the benefits to society as a whole.  He welcomed the continued growth in longevity as an important achievement, as older persons were a valuable resource and made an essential contribution to society.  The Union was focusing particularly on the situation of older women, who were at the greatest risk of poverty.  He was confident that a strong impulse for dynamic and effective implementation of the Madrid Plan could emanate from a clear and targeted review process and invited the relevant actors across the United Nations system to play an active role in that context.

Regarding youth, he said the Union appreciated the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the World Programme of Action on Youth held in the General Assembly at its sixtieth session.  In 2005, the Union had adopted the European Youth Pact which focused on the improvement of education, training, mobility and vocational integration and social inclusion of young Europeans.  Among the initiatives taken in that area, he noted that a European Union-wide working mechanism had been established to guarantee the exchange of achievements and best practices.  Volunteering in the social profit sector, young people could contribute actively to society and develop a deeper understanding of the benefits and solidarity and active citizenship.

In Copenhagen, all had agreed that the family was the basic unit of society and was a strong force of social cohesion and integration, he said.  In different cultural, political and social systems, various forms of the family existed.  Demographic change did not only impact on population structures, economic growth, labour markets and the social protection systems, but also on family structures, family life and the relationship between generations.  He stressed the need to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all individual family members, including women and children.  In any society, the future began with children.  In that regard, the European Union welcomed the preparation of the United Nations Studies on Violence against Children and on Violence against Women.  Special consideration should be given to the situation of the growing number of AIDS-orphans in sub-Saharan Africa.

Apart from improving family financial support, measures to reconcile work and family life were a key field for family policy action, he said.  Helping both men and women balance their work and family life was a crucial step in the effort to meet the combined challenges of gender equality, low employment rates and demographic ageing.  Together with the business community, it was important to find ways to enable women and men to enter part-time jobs up to the time the child attended school.  There was also a need to ensure adequate maternity and paternity provisions to support parents who wished to work full-time before their children attended school.  For parents to be able to reconcile work and family, they needed to have adequate and flexible childcare facilities at their disposal.  Parent's employment opportunities directly depended on the childcare facilities available for their children.  Problems faced when trying to combine work and family life might well lead to couples having fewer children than they would like, which was further exacerbating the problems of demographic ageing.

Concluding, he said the Union was determined to further improve its social protection systems in all those respects.  The Commission was the key forum for taking forward the international social development agenda and the United Nations was committed to ensuring that the Commission strengthened its voice as an authoritative, relevant and respected United Nations body.  Outcomes on the main theme, therefore, needed to be substantial and political.  He welcomed, therefore, progress made last year to reform the Commission's working methods.

ILEANA NUÑEZ MORDOCHE (Cuba) said the Copenhagen Programme of Action recognized various manifestations of poverty, including hunger and malnutrition, lack of access to education and other basic services and the inability to participate in decision-making in the civil, social and cultural spheres.  Almost one sixth of the world population survived on less than a dollar a day.  The neoliberal world order guaranteed that the wealthiest 20 per cent of the planet's population consumed an irrational 86 per cent of all goods and services, while the poorest 20 per cent survived with less than one per cent of global production.  International financial bodies demanded indiscriminate cuts to the developing countries' social programmes, while guaranteeing the flow of some $500 billion a year from the South to the coffers of the North to the detriment of national development plans.  The promise to devote 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to official development assistance (ODA) was being shelved and the offer of $50 billion in ODA for 2010 was disappearing.

Announced debt relief measures were limited and did not address the heart of the matter, she said.  Likewise, rich countries refused a fair agreement for the transference of cutting-edge technology and closed their markets to developing country products with all kinds of barriers.  Current consumption patterns accelerated environmental degradation and were triggering an ever-growing impact of natural disasters with an additional burden on least favoured populations.  A lasting solution to poverty must be found.  For that, it was essential to reclaim the States' role as guarantor of policies for the social inclusion of all citizens.  Cuba's experience had proven the importance of harmonizing economic growth and social development, without abandoning anybody.  Progressive implementation of that policy had benefited children, youth, disabled persons and the elderly -- all that in spite of the United States tight economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed on Cuba for decades and the growing hostility of that country which, with its extraterritorial legislation, was determined to block the creation of the society that Cubans had rightfully chosen.

Among the most recent plans for a so-called "new Cuba" were the privatization of basic social services, elimination of the social security and assistance system and the dismantling of important branches of the economy, she said.  It was the same neoliberal recipe that had kept billions of people in despair.  With national domestic efforts to eradicate poverty, she was convinced that true international cooperation, without condition and in keeping with the beneficiary nations' priorities, should help achieve that goal.  Cuba accorded great importance to international cooperation.  In spite the fact that it was a small, blocked country with scarce financial resources, tens of thousands of Cubans offered their assistance to rural areas and humble neighbourhoods in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, without exerting political pressure or demanding economic privileges.  For Cuba, it was essential that the regional integration strategies be kept apart from the neoliberal conception of business or trade.

Cooperation did not require huge amounts of money, she said.  With an initial investment of some $3.7 billion for nine years -- or 0.004 per cent of one year's gross national income of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- it would be possible to teach some 1.5 billion illiterate and semi-illiterate people to read and write.  Cuba's Government offered to provide the poorest countries, which had a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, with, among other things, doctors, health-care personnel, training, equipment and antiretroviral programmes.  For such initiatives, Cuba only needed third partners to provide what was a fraction of the $1 billion squandered each year on advertising.  For Cuba, the eradication of poverty required a comprehensive approach both at the national and international levels.  National Government commitments were not enough.  The rules of the unjust, unipolar world needed to change.  A better world could only be achieved by banishing neoliberalism.

ZHANG DAN (China) said her Government attached great importance to issues concerning the family, ageing, youth and disabled persons in its efforts to build a harmonious society.  Regarding disabled persons, the Government had developed a law on the protection of persons with disabilities and had incorporated that group into its national development plan.  The year 2005 saw further efforts by the Government in protecting the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, all of which would facilitate their social integration.  The Government also supported the ongoing work on an international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and hoped the convention could be adopted as early as possible.

Ageing was a big challenge facing China, she said.  The number of people above 60 in China was 142 million, accounting for 11 per cent of the population.  China was making further efforts to meet the challenges associated with the ageing.  In 2005, the Government held seminars and studies related to ageing in conjunction with international organizations and United Nations bodies.  Regarding youth, the Government, taking into account the United Nations World Programme of Action on Youth, had formulated laws on the protection of minors and on the prevention of juvenile delinquency.  It had provided legal and institutional guarantees for the protection of the rights of youth.  As a result of its efforts over the past 10 years in areas such as education and health, the conditions for the development of China's youth had been better than ever before.  The social participation of youth had been unparalleled.  She appreciated the Secretary-General's proposal for the establishment of youth employment networks.

A healthy family, she said, would promote the comprehensive development of each of its members and facilitate social and harmonious development and progress.  As the most populous country in the world, and with the largest number of families, China had incorporated family-related projects into its overall national development strategy.  The Government appreciated the role played by the United Nations in facilitating the global undertakings related to youth, ageing, the family and persons with disabilities.  China would work with the international community to facilitate the implementation of the relevant programmes and plans on those topics and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

ROMÁN OYARZUN (Spain) said his Government had a national strategy to foster social integration through national action plans.  The goal of its latest plan, which had been drawn up in cooperation with civil society, was to improve the integration of vulnerable persons, including the elderly, people with disabilities, children, the homeless and migrants.  A gender perspective had been applied across the board in such programmes.  Equal labour opportunities for men and women were fostered through measures to reconcile family and work life.  Such measures included the improvement of conditions for paternity leave.  Other measures had been established to offset social problems and overcome the digital gap.  Spain's action plan for persons with disabilities, which contained a vast range of measures, included strategies to strengthen the organizations representing persons with disabilities, and a general policy existed covering all lines of action in central and local administrations.

He noted that a white paper on the issue of dependency would become a draft law for the promotion of individual autonomy.  The future law would include three types of services to promote personal autonomy and ensure care for persons in situations of dependency, including home and residential centre assistance and economic assistance for family caregivers.  The action plan for the elderly had focused on the improvement of economic standards through increases in the minimum pension level and widow and family benefits.  Given the challenge of integrating the elderly into society, his Government was planning a number of technical seminars and meetings.  It intended to organize a regional European conference in 2007 in which the conclusions of national examination would be reviewed at the European level.  By doing so, Spain hoped to give thrust to collective views on the problems raised in Madrid.

ILGAR MAMMADOV (Azerbaijan) said relevant policies should attack poverty by addressing its root causes.  Achieving the objectives of the Decade for the Eradication of Poverty required intensification of global partnerships, especially in the areas of aid, debt and trade liberalization.  In accordance with his country's State Programme on Poverty Reduction and Economic Development, the Government promoted measures on strengthening social and economic welfare; encouraging a stronger private sector; increasing economic opportunities and improving the quality of jobs; and providing equal access to social protection and social services.  As a result of measures taken, the proportion of the population living in absolute poverty fell from 49 per cent in 2004 to 40 per cent in 2005.

Azerbaijan, he said, attached particular importance to the social welfare and protection of the vulnerable groups, particularly youth, older persons and people with disabilities.  The specific needs of those groups were taken into account and reflected in major national policy papers, including the national employment strategy.  Citing relevant legislation related to youth and disabled persons, he added that the process of social development in his country still faced serious challenges.  The nearly 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons remained the most vulnerable sector of its population.  The Government continued to allocate resources from the State Oil Fund to improve the social situation and meet housing needs of the displaced population, and construction works were under way.  Yet, high rates of unemployment and poverty and poor living standards remained challenges for Azerbaijan, a country with an economy in transition.  In that regard, he stressed the importance of United Nations efforts at the country level.

SALIMA ABDELHAK (Algeria) said the adoption of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty had underscored the commitment of the international community to further concern itself with social issues, which could pose a threat to international peace and security.  The goal of the Decade was to achieve complete poverty eradication.  To do that, States had to implement national measures and promote international cooperation, in accordance with the recommendations and commitments of the conferences of the 1990s.  The Secretary-General's report on the priority theme highlighted the strengthening of commitments to eradicate poverty, both nationally and internationally, and the improvement of coordination within the United Nations system to assist States in their efforts.  The report also drew attention to the inequalities in progress between regions.

The reforms undertaken in Algeria and the opening of its economy had weakened the social gains achieved, she noted.  Poverty had become more apparent and striking.  It had only been possible to contain the expansion of poverty by strengthening social policies.  That involved creating a new set of social provisions for particular groups, and strengthening the traditional assistance system.  Algeria had been able to reduce poverty with its economic growth programme, which, among other things, created more jobs.  The new programme for economic support would help eradicate poverty within 10 years.  She welcomed the progress made with respect to the elaboration of an international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, whose adoption would complement and strengthen national laws.

She drew attention to the precarious situation in other African countries, citing an increase in poverty and lack of education and health services.  The policies undertaken in those countries had not had the anticipated results and had worsened the situation.  She also noted that the financial resources of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and individual countries fell short of what was required to move forward with programmes and policies.  The NEPAD had identified actions that could enable Africa to integrate itself into the world economy, which included developed countries meeting their commitments in the areas of debt, trade and aid.

NICOLE ROMULUS (Haiti) said poverty spared no continent and continued to be devastating from many standpoints.  The issue of poverty eradication had been the cornerstone of the agenda of United Nations conferences and summits.  Overcoming poverty entailed access for all human beings to healthy food -- in fact, one could talk about food security only when an entire population had access to a sufficient food supply.  While the planet did have enough food to feed its inhabitants, food was not distributed according to need, and the eradication of hunger and poverty must be seen holistically, as the two problems were inherently linked.  Also, the question of poverty needed to be studied from the standpoint of the right to food.  Without measures to give the hungry immediate access to food, rural exodus would continue and urbanization would continue unbridled, leading to growing crime rates, the spread of pandemics and growing social tensions and political instability.

The time to act was growing short, as it was the poor who would bear the brunt of the international community's failure, she said.  While it was up to each State to ensure development, developing countries alone could not resolve the problems they faced.  The international community needed to cancel bilateral debt and debt with the World Bank.  She welcomed the announcement to cancel the debt of a cluster of countries and hoped the offer would be expanded.  The international community would need to deliver on its commitment to increase ODA and ensure the predictability of assistance.  The developing countries would have to make good governance and the rule of law bywords and create stable political and economic environments.  They would also need to make South-South cooperation a true tool of development.

On 7 February, Haitians had turned out in great numbers to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections, she said, expressing gratitude to the international community for its support and assistance in Haiti's quest for democracy and political stability.

ALLIEU IBRAHIM KANU (Sierra Leone), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that since 1995, many efforts had been undertaken to develop a policy framework on poverty eradication.  It was not clear why, 10 years after those efforts at policy formulation, the Secretary-General's report on the priority theme still recommended that countries should ensure that policies and programmes designed to achieve poverty eradication were put in place.  He recalled that, in 2002, the General Assembly adopted NEPAD, which provided the policy framework for Africa's development.  For Africa, the problem did not lie in designing policies, but in the implementation of policies.  Attempts to support Africa would be better directed towards providing the knowledge, technology and resources to implement programmes.  It was through such concrete support that Africa could join China and India in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and eradicating poverty.

Poverty eradication required policy coherence at both the national, regional and global levels, he continued.  It was important to undertake greater collaboration and coordination between the Poverty Strategy Initiatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank's poverty reduction strategies.  Also, efforts for poverty eradication should be geared towards the provision of adequate infrastructure and the promotion of agricultural productivity and full employment.  While national Governments had the primary responsibility for undertaking those initiatives, the recent trends in globalization and economic integration demanded more partnerships among States and other actors.  In addition, the Economic and Social Council must fulfil the role assigned to it to monitor and assess follow-up actions to the Monterrey Consensus.

Ms. MAGARIAN of the International Federation of Associations of the Elderly said the elderly around the world were impoverished.  Her organization was involved in projects across Europe, including a survey on the future of retirement homes in several countries.  In Africa, action had focused on the fight against poverty.  Millions in that continent were threatened by food shortages, particularly in the southern horn, the most vulnerable being children, the elderly and young people.  In Latin America, population ageing went hand in hand with poverty.  The most common suggestion to reduce poverty was through the development of microenterprise through a network of guidance and credit systems.  In developed countries, social protection systems were often in danger because of low financing, while in developing countries, economic growth had not allowed for the establishment of social protection systems.

Ms. GIULIANI, Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, stressed the need for a comprehensive road map to face the deep-rooted human obstacles to poverty reduction, as well as the plans and strategies for sustained economic growth.  The "sticky areas" of development resided in human behaviours and propensities and the intangibles that guided decision-making processes.  The "human factor" could not be ignored if the world was to eradicate poverty, even by half by 2015.  "By considering this dimension of poverty, we can see how cultivation of the innate capacity to create, to rise above, to forgive, love and have compassion for others, has a potential to unleash energies and possibilities untapped by the purely economic paradigm."  By strengthening the moral and ethical capacities of communities, as well as the capacity for compassion, forgiveness and care of others, new possibilities for advancing the development agenda opened up.

She added that the family was pivotal in life, and not only for poverty eradication.  Families were where the basics of conflict prevention, reconciliation, compassion, fairness, forgiveness and trust could be best learned.  The family was of paramount importance to comprehensive social development in any society and in the world at large.  Families, when strengthened, could counter the havoc of material poverty and social stress, and could even end the vicious cycles poverty created.

Ms. HAMLIN of the International Federation on Ageing said her organization worked to raise world awareness on that issue.  Never before had people lived so long.  In the next 50 years the number of older persons would quadruple to some 2 billion.  Currently, 1 in 10 persons was 60 years or older.  By 2050, one out of five persons would be an old person.  While the Millennium Development Goals had specific targets for reducing poverty, they were silent on the issue of older persons.  Ensuring the participation of older persons in the development process went beyond poverty reduction -- their involvement in the process itself was crucial.  Ultimately, it was up to Governments to act on commitments made at international conferences to ensure that all their people benefited from development.

SUSAN SOMERS, International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, said her organization's aim was to increase society's ability, through international collaboration, to recognize and respond to the mistreatment of older persons.  That was in keeping with the Madrid Plan of Action, specifically its provisions regarding the prevention of neglect, abuse and violence.  Poverty and disability had a heavy impact on the elderly, particularly on older women.  Her organization had devised a two-part project, involving conducting a global scan on information and legislation related to elder abuse, as well as raising awareness of that issue.

MERY LOZANO DE ARANIBAR, HelpAge International, said it should not be forgotten that the elderly were the most marginalized and poorest in society.  The number of older persons was growing at an accelerated rate.  More than 10 per cent of those living on less than $1 a day were over 60.  Now, more than ever before, the voice of the elderly must be heard so that international commitments and policies included their concerns.  Many in Latin America were ageing in poverty, due to lack of health care and jobs, and decades of impoverishment.  The Commission had recognized the importance of contributions by older persons to the review process for the Madrid Plan of Action.

She described her experience during the last three years as part of a citizens' monitoring network for the elderly in Bolivia.  That monitoring had shown the discrepancies between policies and practice.  All citizens, irrespective of age, must have access to education, health and regular income in their later years.  She also noted that gender discrimination was still strong for many elderly women.  In Latin America, just as on other continents, older persons were facing many challenges, including HIV/AIDS and the effects of natural disasters.

Panel Discussion

Mr. SCHÖLVINCK, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, said the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing had been adopted in 2002 to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the twenty-first century and to promote the development of a society for all ages.  The three priority directions of the Action Plan were designed to guide policy formulation and implementation and, thus, provide a broad framework for monitoring, review and appraisal activities.

Within the United Nations, the Commission for Social Development had responsibility for follow-up of the Plan of Action at the global level, he said.  At its forty-first session in 2003, the Commission had endorsed a "bottom-up and flexible approach" for review and appraisal of the Plan.  The endorsement of the bottom-up approach was a significant development as it would, among other things, provide Governments with relevant statistics, establish priorities for policies and programmes that reflected older persons' interests, monitor the implementation of the different programmes, and provide an opportunity for people to articulate their conditions, needs and aspirations.  The approach, which brought the monitoring and review process close to the national and local levels, should be seen as an ongoing process rather than a product delivered at a certain time.  It was necessary to use national expertise and share good practices.

Ms. LOZANA DE ARANIBAR from Bolivia noted that hers was one of the poorest countries in the region with high levels of social exclusion.  Indeed, some 59 per cent of the country's population lived in poverty, of which older persons accounted for some 63 per cent.  The majority of the elderly population could neither read nor write, lacked access to health, and most were women.  By 2050, there would be some 3 million elderly people in Bolivia.  If social policies to ensure their well-being were not designed, the prospects for her grandchildren would be even more difficult.

Measures were being taken to empower the elderly, she said, and a priority need for the elderly concerned health care.  With that in mind, a project had commenced with the aid of HelpAge International to monitor the delivery of health services to the elderly.  Surveys commissioned as part of the project showed that the quality of attention received by elderly people from doctors and nurses was less than adequate.  Problems included a lack of medication, the inability of doctors to understand the indigenous language, long waits to be seen by doctors and the need to travel long distances to clinics covered by free health insurance schemes.

She noted that the authorities were now providing greater care for older persons and were working to ensure that relevant policies were better implemented.  In La Paz, the clinics that provided services for elderly persons received preference to ensure that their clients did not have to wait to receive treatment.  The project had provided useful experiences that would ultimately help older persons age with dignity.  A great deal remained to be done, however, especially for those living in rural areas.  Lack of awareness and the high level of illiteracy were among the obstacles facing older persons.  Many were members of indigenous groups who suffered from discrimination and had led lives of isolation.  Many elderly people also suffered from low self-esteem and ignorance of their rights.  The project had, however, awakened the desire of older persons to work with the project to improve their standard of living.  She hoped that would improve the situation of future generations.

BIENVENIDO ROLA from the Philippines presented the Philippine perspective of the bottom-up approach for the review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action.  He noted that there were several plans that could be reviewed.  There was the Macao Plan of Action on Ageing adopted in 1998, in response to the call for States to develop regional action plans.  That was followed by the adoption of the Philippine Plan of Action for Older Persons in 1999, and then the 2002 Madrid Plan of Action.  There was also the Shanghai Implementation Strategy adopted in 2002, devised by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) as a regional strategy for implementing both the Madrid and Macao Plans of Action.  The four priority action areas of the Strategy were:  older persons and development; advancing health and well-being; an enabling and supportive environment; and implementation and follow-up.

The Philippines, he said, had a national coordinating agency, supported by other agencies in the Government, including the Departments of Interior, Health and Justice, and which included numerous representatives of older persons and non-governmental organizations.  Implementation and monitoring in the Philippines used the participatory approach.  There was a history of bottom-up appraisal in his country.  Notably, in recent years, the country had replaced two presidents using the bottom-up approach.  The participatory approach was being used in monitoring the Philippine Plan of Action for Senior Citizens at both national and local levels.  The review of that Plan found that:  most agencies and non-governmental organizations said they had no budgets and so they could not attain the goals and targets set; they were setting many unattainable goals and targets; and there was low or no participatory approach.  Also, pilot community workshops on local-level implementation found low participation of the rural poor, especially women, and a general lack of awareness of laws, rights and entitlements.

IRINA NICOLAE BAICALOV from the Republic of Moldova said many people in her country lived in poverty.  Some 30,000 elderly people died each year, mostly at home and without assistance.  What could be worse than being old, hungry and dying alone? she asked.  Older persons wanted to help society and be masters of their own lives.  Their number had increased, from 9.7 per cent of the population in 1970 to about 13.8 per cent in 2004.  Rapid immigration had left many older people isolated and without family support.  More than 1 in 6 persons remaining in Moldova were elderly and about 43.7 per cent of older persons were considered poor.  Pensions often provided only one quarter of the amount needed to buy food, and seniors lacked access to health care and other services.

She noted that there had been, however, some positive changes at the state level, mainly due to changes in legislation.  New legislation had been adopted, including legislation on compensation for utilities and day-care centres.  Existing measures were not reaching all older people in need of support, however, especially in rural areas.  There was no comprehensive strategy for older persons, and no indication of the Madrid Plan being used in policy design.  In 2002, her organization, Second Breath, had held round-table discussions with social workers and the Ministries of Health and Social Protection to discuss the Madrid Plan.  A project carried out by Second Breath on the integration of older person into society reported an increase in the level of knowledge about their rights; better access to social, medical and legal services; and a better understanding of elderly people by the Government.

According to a 2005 survey carried out by Second Breath with the assistance of HelpAge International, some 43 per cent of elderly persons were aware of their constitutional and legal rights; 86 per cent reported that pensions were regularly paid; and 75 per cent said they could not provide for their basic needs due to low pensions, she said.  Priorities identified by older people included the need to improve pension levels and job creation, as well as the need to establish intergenerational policies.  Recommendations also included increasing the value of pensions, reintegrating older people in society, informing them of their rights and entitlements, supporting volunteer work for elderly people and developing a national plan of action on ageing.

JOSE GUZMAN, on behalf of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the countries of his region had demonstrated great dynamism in implementing the Madrid Plan of Action.  Among other things, new policies and programmes had been designed and institutions established.  The ECLAC had also convened technical meetings to assist in the implementation of the Plan.  It was working closely with institutions, including the United Nations Programme on Ageing, the Pan-American Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.  The ECLAC was also providing technical assistance to numerous countries in the region.  In reviewing the implementation of the Plan, a bottom-up approach would allow for greater attention to be paid to the needs of older persons.  Evaluation and follow-up were areas that needed to be further developed in the region.  Participation was still restricted and seen as merely the provision of information to the beneficiaries of policies.  However, it must also extend to the empowerment of older persons.  Currently, the ECLAC was organizing a session in Uruguay on the issue of social protection.

Presenting some of the activities of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in follow-up to the Madrid Plan of Action, he said that the ECE had established a network of national focal points on ageing.  Plans to organize the first meeting of those focal points later this year were conditional on obtaining extrabudgetary support.  The Task Force for Monitoring the ECE Regional Implementation Strategy had organized a workshop in Malta in May to promote the national and regional implementation of the commitments related to care provision.  Also, the ECE was conducting a project -- Employment and Fiscal Policy Implications of Ageing -- in the economies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, which involved producing a set of projections for population, employment and output trends in all CIS countries that were based on common assumptions.

THELMA KAY, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said the rapid process of population ageing in her region was an emerging reality that would compound the challenges faced by many developing countries in providing income and health security to a growing elderly population.  The ESCAP had developed a modality for systematic bottom-up review and appraisal of ageing policies and programmes, which was piloted in several training workshops.  The results of studies carried out showed that a combination of community-based care provision, mobilization of elderly groups, activities to improve physical and mental functions and the removal of environmental barriers were effective in promoting active ageing.

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