BANGKOK — Dramatic demographic changes in Asia, coupled with persistent social inequality, require countries to urgently tackle population concerns with foresight and justice, the head of UNFPA said today at a regional gathering of experts in the field.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, spoke at the opening of the Asian Population Association's second conference. Hundreds of demographers and population experts from throughout Asia are attending the four-day event.
In a wide-ranging speech, Dr. Osotimehin addressed the rapid drop in fertility rates that has slowed population growth in the region. This shift, he noted, will sharply increase the proportions of older people in many countries by 2050, and demands "timely and adequate policy measures on health care, and family and social support systems".
In other countries, where fertility decline is more recent, unprecedented numbers of working-age young adults offer a one-time chance to boost development with proper investments in education and job creation, he stated.
The UNFPA leader highlighted other important trends, including urbanization and international migration, that urgently call for proactive policies. Sex selection at birth due to son preference has skewed sex ratios in some countries; a newly published analysis by UNFPA indicates that if marriage patterns by age and sex were to remain as they are today, there could be 50 per cent more single men than women trying to marry in China and India by 2030.
Inequalities among and within countries, especially in health, also demand attention, he stressed. Despite progress, maternal mortality remains unacceptably high in South Asia and family planning programmes have lagged.
"The poor, the rural, ethnic minorities and the young are especially disadvantaged in accessing reproductive health services," he said, noting in particular the considerable unmet need for contraception among both married and unmarried young people.
Dr. Osotimehin urged meeting participants to support their countries' review of progress since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) called for universal access to reproductive health services by 2015. He said the global survey countries are now completing as a key part of the ICPD 20-year review process and the upcoming ICPD Global Youth Forum, to be held in Bali from 4-6 December, will help shape the post-MDG international development agenda.
The Asian Population Association, founded in 2007, has nearly 1,300 members from throughout the region. It aims to foster research, enhance scholarly collaboration, and support key data collection efforts. The conference will feature dozens of expert presentations on the full gamut of population and reproductive health topics, with a focus on fertility decline and migration.
From Bangkok, Dr. Osotimehin will travel to Myanmar to affirm UNFPA's partnership with the Government in advancing reproductive health, development and the empowerment of women and young people.
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