Commission on Population and Development 51st Session 2nd Plenary

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09-Apr-2018 02:55:15
Population and Development Commission opens session amid calls to unleash huge growth potential of urban areas, especially for world’s 1 billion migrants at 2nd plenary meeting.

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Rapid urbanization presented some of today’s greatest modern development challenges, yet if effectively harnessed — especially by the world’s 1 billion migrants — it could unleash tremendous growth opportunities, speakers said today as the Commission on Population and Development opened its fifty‑first session.

“Overly rapid urbanization and poorly managed migration pose serious challenges to sustainable development,” said Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary‑General for Economic Development and Chief Economist in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, one of five United Nations officials to open the 2018 session under the theme, “Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration”.

More than 4 billion people lived in urban areas, he said, compared to about 750 million in 1950. Meanwhile, the number of migrants — those living outside their country of birth — had grown from 160 million in 1994 to 258 million today. He urged national and local governments to work together in implementing policies that reaped the development benefits of urbanization and migration, while managing the potentially negative aspects.

Along similar lines, Gora Mboup, President and Chief Executive Officer of Gora Group, noted that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, only 2 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050, 70 per cent would live in cities and towns, in part to be closer to family and education opportunities, and increasingly due to conflict and disaster.

In that context, he drew attention to the proliferation of slums in “megacities” — those with 10 million or more inhabitants — across Asia and Africa, where people did not enjoy land tenure and feared eviction. If accepted, and with the right mix of cultural and social integration efforts, migrants could help create sustainable economies.

Against that backdrop, Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed said international migration was becoming much more complex. A record number of people faced severe insecurity and were forced to make gut‑wrenching decisions to move. The polarizing rhetoric and xenophobic policies emerging around migration were borne more out of fear than fact. On the whole, migrants made a positive contribution to societies.

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), underscored that a record 65 million people had been forcibly displaced in 2017. UNFPA had travelled to a number of “gateway” cities to interview migrants about their experiences. “They face serious risks and abuses during and after their moves, and things are much harder than they had expected,” she said. “Even so, they almost universally say they would do it all over again.”

In the ensuing general debate, senior Government officials and representatives provided examples of how urbanization was affecting their countries and regions, with Nigeria’s delegate, on behalf of the Africa Group, stressing that 55 per cent of Africans would likely reside in towns and cities over the next 15 years. “Migration and human mobility in Africa are dominated by movement from rural neighbourhoods to modern cities,” he said, adding that by 2063, an estimated 62 per cent of the population would be found in urban centres. Those trends would have wide‑ranging implications for policy decisions.

With more than half of the world’s population living in city settings, urban poverty and inequalities posed significant obstacles to fulfilling human rights for all, said Austria’s representative, on behalf of the European Union. Innovation would be essential for harnessing the economic potential of sustainable cities, as would access to sexual and reproductive health care for fast‑growing urban populations.

Drawing attention to national efforts, the representative of Belarus said his country was pursing policies to stimulate the development of small- and medium‑sized towns and cities. The Government sought to create “agro‑towns” with modernized infrastructure and quality public services. Meanwhile, 2018 had been declared the “Year of the Hometown” in Belarus, with a renewed focus on revitalizing rural areas and mitigating the overpopulation of cities.

In other business, the Commission elected Jawad Ali Chatha (Pakistan), Nicola Barker-Murphy (Jamaica) and René Lauer (Luxembourg) as Vice-Chairs for the session, as well as Mr. Ali Chatha as Rapporteur. It also adopted the provisional agenda for its current session (document E/CN.9/2018/1), and approved its organization of work (document E/CN.9/2018/L.1).

Also speaking today were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Egypt (also on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Qatar, Philippines, China, Mexico, Poland, Ghana, Jordan, Brazil, Republic of Moldova, Argentina, Thailand, Burkina Faso, Norway, Germany, Cuba, Pakistan, Iran, Honduras, Israel, Ecuador and Switzerland.

Presenting reports today were Jorge Bravo, Chief of the Demographic Analysis Branch of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division; Benoit Kalasa, Director of the United Nations Population Fund Technical Division; and Rachel Snow, Chief of UNFPA’s Population and Development Branch.

Ion Jinga, Chair of the Commission’s fifty‑first session, and John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of Department of Economic and Social Affairs, also delivered opening remarks.

The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 April to continue its general debate.
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