Fifty-sixth Session,
8th Meeting* (AM)

Speakers Stress Importance of Data in Addressing Development Challenges Due to Ageing Populations, Migration, Demographic Dividend, as Commission Continues Session

Key Role of United Nations Population Division Resources Spotlighted

Against the backdrop of the major demographic issues facing the world today, the United Nations Population Division’s data has been essential as it serves as a reference for domestic population projections, experts underscored today, as the Commission on Population and Development continued its fifty-sixth session with a general debate as well as a panel discussion on “Programme implementation and future programme of work of the Secretariat in the field of population”.

The Commission focused on the Secretary-General’s report on programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2022, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (E/CN.9/2023/5); and a Note by the Secretariat on the programme plan for 2023 and programme performance for 2021: subprogramme 5, Population, of programme 7, Economic and social affairs (E/CN.9/2023/CRP.1).

Moderated by John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the panel discussion featured: Ayaga Agula Bawah, Director of the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana; Piedad Urdinola, Director of the National Administrative Department of Statistics in Colombia; Elżbieta Gołata, Professor of Economics at Poznań University of Economics and Business in Poland; and Mohammad Mainul Islam, Professor in the Department of Population Sciences at University of Dhaka, Bangladesh (joining via virtual connection).

Mr. Bawah said that, due to the persistence of high fertility and population growth in Africa, the continent is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population increase by 2050.  In addition, Africa has the highest level or urban growth, he observed, also highlighting the impact of climate change on various demographic phenomena, including health.  He expressed concern over the loss of life of Africa’s youth undergoing journeys across the Sahara region and the Mediterranean.  Despite increasing levels of educational enrolments, the continent is facing disparities.  Against this backdrop, he stressed that strategies are needed to address population ageing and demographic dividend, adding that the Regional Institute for Population Studies is one of the two institutes in Africa dealing with population challenges.  On the issue of funding, he said that less and less resources are going into education in general.  As a result, “Africa is struggling”, he cautioned, urging for resources for research and training, such as research grants.  The aim is to gather a body of students and graduates who will be able to find lasting solutions to such challenges.

He emphasized that the Population Division provides comprehensive demographic resources, including data on various demographic indices, such as fertility, mortality, migration and related issues.  Such resources are essential for the Global South where data is lacking, especially textbooks on demographics.  Moreover, the Division produces technical resources, including manuals and software on various demographic estimations.  Training institutes rely on these resources for teaching and learning.  With regard to the United Nations resources, he called for better organization of data, stressing the importance of resources such as demographic projection software, software for generating mortality and fertility indices as well as technical manuals on the various estimation methodologies.  The Population Division should identify countries with specific demographic challenges and get technical officers to provide specific technical assistance in such countries.  Furthermore, there should be more interaction between the population division and academic institutions in Africa for capacity-building.

Ms. Urdinola, highlighting the challenges posed by migration in her region, said that the migrant caravans in Central America are affecting countries “from bottom to top” as large numbers of people move across the region.  Some countries have also passed from mostly producing emigrants to becoming receivers, she said, highlighting the situation of Mexico.  Also pointing out that the region is rapidly ageing, faster than expected, she said low fertility in combination with highly informal economies dilutes the advantages of the demographic bonus and imposes the demographic tax too soon, without further preparation for each country.  Public policy has not done enough, she said, adding that infrastructure, social security systems, education and labour markets need to prepare for this shift.

“Diversity is the face of Latin America,” she said, adding that each country is a collection of many diverse populations, from Indigenous native groups to gender and sexual identity-based groups to victims of conflicts.  Stressing the need to measure these categories and assess their needs, she added that there is a “social debt” to be paid by including these different groups in demographic statistics.  She also expressed appreciation for the Population Division’s data, which has been particularly useful as it serves as a reference for domestic population projections.  Its handbooks and manuals on measurement and good practices and its focal groups have been a source of technical support by providing experts.  One thing that the Division could improve is how it develops processes or methods for its own production, as it tends to be isolated from national statistical offices, many of which also have technical expertise, she added.

Ms. Golata, addressing the major demographic issues in Poland — one of the countries with the most advanced population ageing process — said that recent years have brought unprecedented changes due to increasing immigration.  Her country is facing depopulation and a profound change in the population’s age structure, she observed, adding that the share of children and youth in the total population is decreasing, the working age population is shrinking, and the share of older people is significantly increasing.  The acceleration of the ageing process and the double ageing in the coming decades results also from the post-war baby boom.  Moreover, the persisting low fertility strongly impacts the number of women of childbearing age, she said, citing this decline as a driving force of a downward trend in the number of births.  These profound transformations of population reproduction require appropriate adjustments of the economy and labour market from the social security and welfare institutions.

To this end, she continued, the Committee on Demographic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences undertook activities regarding both substantive consultations of preparatory works and dissemination of information about the census in the scientific community.  Moreover, the document presented by her Government — “Demographic Strategy 2040” — proposes a set of measures of the pronatalist policy, prioritizing direct financial transfers and incentives to increase fertility among married couples; however, early childhood education and care does not receive adequate attention.  Pointing to numerous publications available on the Population Division website, she welcomed its great educational and research function, serving both researchers and students.

Mr. Islam noted that Bangladesh is the eighth most-populated country with a population of 169.8 million in 2022.  Further, the urban population is growing and is at 31.66 per cent in 2022.  Adding that the country has more females than males for the first time, he also noted the reduction in the mortality rate and increased life expectancy at birth.  Moreover, Bangladesh has a huge number of overseas migrants and generates a large amount of overseas remittances.  The country is in the third phase of demographic transition, he said, adding that its window of opportunity to benefit from the demographic dividends of this phase will close around 2036-37.  Bangladesh has a high percentage of working population at the moment, he noted, pointing to the success of family planning measures.  Other successes include improved economic growth and improvements in gender parity in access to education.  He also highlighted the valuable role played by non-governmental organizations.

Turning to challenges, he underscored the need to prevent child and early marriage and teenage pregnancy, the latter of which is of critical concern in urban areas.  Also noting the country’s increased climate change vulnerability, he said that as one of the most climate-vulnerable nations, Bangladesh’s economy and quality of life are severely impacted by this.  Pointing to the challenges posed by large numbers of forcefully displaced Myanmar nationals, he added that Bangladesh is host to 1.1 million Rohingya refugees and there is no clear direction for their return to their home country.  Thanking the Population Division for making its data available freely, he said that he and his colleagues use its data, reports, and other materials in their academic work as well as for teaching in classrooms.  Further, “long-run time series analysis” and international comparisons through the United Nations population data are useful where national-level updated data are unavailable, he added.

When the floor opened for discussion, many speakers underlined that the availability of new financial resources is necessary for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, with Cuba’s delegate emphasizing that specific particularities of countries in special situations — such as least developed countries, small island developing States and middle-income countries — must be considered.

The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that an increasing number of countries face the problem of ageing and lower fertility rate, stressed the importance of social-economic support for families.  Such support is not considered with the requisite gravity, he said, asking about measures that can be undertaken by the Population Division to more completely reflect this part of the Commission’s work.

The representative of Honduras, underscoring that decisions regarding social development should be based on evidence, drew attention to his Government’s difficulties in working with aggregated data, especially regarding people with disabilities, Indigenous communities and pregnant teens.  He asked what the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) can do to increase the efficient use of this data.

Nigeria’s delegate asked about the prevention of child marriage — one of the issues facing her country — specifically about measures to protect girls from this dimension of gender-based violence.  She also asked how the data obtained from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs can be used to manage fertility growth and the quality of life in Africa.

Ghana’s delegate stressed that reduction in population growth may not necessarily reduce the impact on the environment, as the purchasing power and consumption will increase.  She asked whether this reality is considered in the population prospect.

The representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation - Western Hemisphere Region voiced concern over the lack of evidence regarding the participation of populations that are facing greater disadvantages, including young people, adolescents, people with disabilities, Indigenous populations and migrants and refugees.  Against this backdrop, she underlined the importance of an intersectional perspective for analysing and using statistics.  She asked about ways to include the most affected people in the analysis of trends and about measures to avoid making these populations invisible.

Responding, Mr. Wilmoth said that the Population Division is currently preparing a report on the demographic situation of countries in special situations such as least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries.  He welcomed suggestions on what forms that study should take.  He also noted that the Population Division has no mandate to produce information about subnational populations other than urban-rural populations.  The Statistics Division has the mandate to help countries improve their collection of data, he added.

MR. Bawah said that the Regional Institute for Population Studies was established as a regional institute for demographic research.  While not directly involved with the African Union’s work, the Institute is beginning to engage in the work of regional organizations such as the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).  He highlighted a seminar organized collaboratively last year as an example.

Mr. Islam said that child marriage is a problem not only for his country but also for many sub-Saharan African countries.  Without addressing child marriage, half of the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved.  He highlighted the law against the phenomenon in his country, adding that social values, gender norms and socioeconomic factors contribute to child marriage.  Therefore, a multi-faceted approach is necessary, he stressed.

Ms. Urdinola expressed appreciation for the work of Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), adding that migration data is crucial in her region.  This experience could be repeated elsewhere in the world, she said, commending the role of South-South cooperation and adding that it is crucial to work together in sharing data.  Highlighting the role of civil society, she said that it can access and get demographic information from vulnerable groups in ways that the Government cannot.

Ms. Golata, noting the impossibility of generating data that is quick, cheap and good all at the same time, said that given the challenge of collecting data on migration, cooperation between countries of origin and destination, as well as local institutions, is essential.  Also pointing to the differences between countries when it comes to demographic data collection and analysis, she said it is crucial to respect this diversity.

Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Sudan, China, Dominican Republic, and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 14 April, to conclude its work.


* The 7th Meeting was not covered.

For information media. Not an official record.