ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — As Ministers from across Africa gathered for the opening of the Ministerial Segment of the African Regional Conference on Population and Development, there was a clear acknowledgement that Africa has made considerable progress in the twenty years since the ICPD Programme of Action was adopted and a call for the continent to keep the moving forward.
“We have the opportunity to make history and achieve long sought after goals,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, speaking at the opening session.
Dr. Osotimehin urged African leaders to seize the moment and agree on a new action plan for the continent which would lead the way for the development agenda beyond 2015.
“Africa has made strides in governance, in educating our people, ameliorating acute poverty to some degree, reducing communicable diseases, recognizing and according our women the equality and security they are entitled to. But much more needs to be done”, he said.
Dr. Osotimehin underlined some of the Africa’s most pressing challenges including those related to the status of women and girls; ensuring universal access to basic health services, including sexual and reproductive health services; addressing the unmet need of some 47 million women in sub-Saharan Africa for family planning, as well as challenges related to urbanization, migration, complex emergencies and conflict, the environment, food insecurity and climate change.
“These challenges are linked in a vicious self-perpetuating cycle that must be broken,” he stressed. “The key to breaking the cycle and to realizing the vision of our founding fathers and of Cairo is the investment in the continents greatest asset – the African people, particularly our women and young people.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn reinforced the enormous potential of Africa’s large youth population and stressed that the time to take advantage of that potential is now.
“If properly managed, the so-called youth bulge would represent a golden opportunity for many African countries to experience the demographic dividend,” he said.
The Prime Minister also highlighted the need for the effective implementation of the right policies and strategic investments in young people in order to create socially and economically productive adults.
“Achieving this demands a strong regional commitment to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health programmes that include voluntary and comprehensive family planning information and services,” he said. “Furthermore, implementation of policies that ensure universal access to comprehensive healthcare, quality education including tertiary level education that promotes gender equality and eliminate early and forced marriage particularly for our young girls, are some of the seeds we must sow to reap the demographic dividend.”
Dr. Carlos Lopes, United Nations Under-Secretary General and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said this is a moment of truth for Africa and he called for a structural transformation of the continent to be fueled by industrialization and job creation.
“Despite our exceptional demographic vitality, and even more astounding despite our 5% average growth, we are not capable of creating the 15 million jobs we need every year,” he said. Dr. Lopes stressed that young people need to participate fully in decision-making processes to realize the dividend of Africa’s population dynamics.
The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Erasmus Mwencha encouraged delegates to prioritize their efforts to achieve a growth for Africa that is “here to stay.”
The African Regional Conference on Population and Development is the fifth and final regional conference held to review the progress, towards the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and to agree a forward looking agenda beyond 2014 that puts rights at the heart of the development. The review process will help identify strategic priorities in relation to population and development on the African Continent and will define the ICPD agenda post 2014, and contribute to the continent's position on the United Nations Post-2015 development agenda.
The Conference is jointly organized by the African Union Commission, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
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