Unlocking youth potential, planning for the coming era of ageing, are key to sustainable future for Asia-Pacific

Aug 16, 2016

HE Bangladesh Ambassador Saida Muna Tasneem speaks at the panel discussion on regional demographic trends held at the FCCT in Thailand. - UNDP Photo


Demographic change in Asia and the Pacific is happening at a rate the world has never seen say experts, with some countries in the region headed into an era of ageing even as others experience a peak in working age populations.

Asia and the Pacific’s next wave of human development gains – as measured by social and economic indicators – will require countries in the region to account for shifting population trends in their national planning, and tackle the gender divide that continues to hold back progress.

Population trends in the region span a broad spectrum of realities.

An explosion in the working age population and a fall in birth rates that took a century in Europe are happening here in just 30 years.

On one hand, youth in Asia and the Pacific number more than 760 million today, half of the world’s youth population.

In 2005, for the first time in its history, Asia-Pacific had more people over age 60 than children under age five. By 2050, 1.2 billion older people will call the region home, and half the population will be over age 50. The onset of rapid ageing is an early warning signal, an urgent call for action.

With traditional family structures beginning to shift, a growing share of the elderly live alone and must rely on their own means. While ageing is often feared, countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Thailand are have shown how high-level political commitment, through dedicated inter-ministerial bodies on ageing, has allowed ageing to be a source of enrichment for individuals and societies.

These were some of the key issues discussed at a Tuesday event organised by the United Nations Development Programme’s regional offices in Bangkok. Held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, the speakers included:

•    Nicholas Rosellini, Deputy Regional Director for UNDP in Asia and the Pacific and Director of UNDP’s Bangkok Regional Hub

•    H.E. Saida Muna Tasneem, Ambassador for the People's Republic of Bangladesh in Thailand

•    Ms. Yoriko Yasukawa, Regional Director, UNFPA in Asia and the Pacific

•    Professor Worawet Suwanrada, Dean of The Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University

The discussions were framed by the UNDP Asia Pacific Human Development Report, published earlier this year.

Titled Shaping the Future: How Changing Demographics Can Power Human Development, the report notes that the large share of working age people in the region offers the region a “demographic dividend’ by being a springboard for economic growth. Region-wide, 68 percent of people are of working age and only 32 percent are dependents.

However, the demographic dividend is not automatic.

“When countries have a greater share of people who can work, they have the potential to transform their societies through greater prosperity – which, far from being an end in itself, can ensure longer and healthier lives, access to education, human rights and dignity: the cornerstones of human wellbeing,” Nicholas Rosellini, UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Asia-Pacific and Director of the agency’s Bangkok Regional Hub.

Women’s access to education and their participation in the labour force remain low, as noted by the report. In South Asia, women earn a full third less than their male counterparts -- the highest gender pay gap compared to other regions.

“The Sustainable Development Goals must be matched with resources needed for including those left behind; no society can reach its development potential if women are excluded from participating in, contributing to, and benefiting from development,” said Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem, Ambassador for the People's Republic of Bangladesh in Thailand.

“For the next wave of development to succeed, we must ensure women's full access to education and their equal participation in the labor force and equal pay, a challenge all countries of South Asia need to address nationally and regionally,” she added.

“In older countries, governments have to design fair, sustainable pension systems, support active ageing including long term care and promote appreciation for the value of older citizens," said Professor Worawet Suwanrada, Dean of The Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University. This includes making sure that older people who want to work can bring their skills and experience to the market.

With 58 percent of all the working people on earth, what happens in Asia-Pacific will affect countries far beyond the region.

“When we look at the priorities for Asia and the Pacific, those farthest behind have to come first: the people who have been the most excluded and marginalized, the most vulnerable, have to come first,” said Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“In our region, this means the poorest both in the countryside and in the cities, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, ethnic and religious minorities, lower caste people, LGBT persons, migrants and refugees, stateless people, sex workers, people addicted to drugs, people living with HIV, and, often, women and girls,” she said.

“The opportunity of a high share of working population needs to be tapped into with the right set of policies and institutions,” said Bishwa Nath Tiwari, a Programme Specialist and one of the authors 2016 Asia Pacific Human Development Report in his presentation.  

There is no one solution for all countries, but the region’s diversity provides room for south-south cooperation, speakers said. With the great majority of Asia’s peak-era workforce still in their early years, now is the time to invest in interventions that will harness their potential.

For queries, please contact: Cedric Monteiro, Regional Communications Specialist, United Nations Development Programme, Cedric.Monteiro@undp.org.

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