In November of this year, the world’s population will reach 8 billion. From the world’s most populous countries – China and India – to the world’s smallest populations in the Pacific island nations, the Asia-Pacific region is home to a diverse group of approximately 4.3 billion people from different walks of life, gender, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. With more than half of humanity living in our culturally and demographically diverse region, what does the 8 billion mark mean for Asia and the Pacific?
Globally, people are living longer and healthier lives. We have made incredible progress in lifelong health, and more and more mothers are giving birth safely. Poverty has declined over the past few decades, and with the digital boom, people around the world have become more connected than ever. Yet progress is not universal. Gaps in social services and digital access continue to exist and result in poor and vulnerable groups being disproportionately affected. The women most left behind still die in childbirth, and existing inequalities and harmful social norms prevent women and girls from realizing their full potential. As we move towards a world of 8 billion, we must meet the challenges, harness the opportunities and ensure a resilient future for all.
As a region, Asia-Pacific is experiencing global megatrends, including aging populations, increasing humanitarian crises, impacts of climate change, urbanization, migration, and rapid advances in digital technologies. . For the first time in history, we are witnessing extreme demographic diversity in the average age and fertility rates of populations. Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea, for example, are experiencing a youth bulge, while Iran, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, among others, are experiencing low fertility and rapid population aging. population. Through the constant demographic flux, countries need to build their demographic resilience – and to do that, we need to look beyond the numbers.
The solution is not more or less people. The solution is increased and equitable access to opportunities for all. While counting people is important, we must remember that every person counts and every person has rights and choices. Policies must focus on people, not populations. Instead of making numbers work for systems, we need to make systems work for numbers. This is how countries can build their demographic resilience.
If, for example, fertility is falling, is it because expectant parents worry about how they will support a family, find affordable housing, or how it might hamper the career trajectory of a mother ? If fertility is increasing, is it by choice or is it because women do not have knowledge or access to family planning information and services? Each individual brings their leadership, skills, creativity and heart to the human family, and each individual deserves to benefit from a more just, prosperous and sustainable world. To achieve this world – and the 2030 Agenda – countries must respect human rights, especially reproductive rights.
As the sexual and reproductive health agency of the United Nations, UNFPA advocates for a world where every woman has the right to decide if, when and how many children to have. Sustainable development can only be achieved if women have autonomy over their bodies. It is only when women and girls in the region can make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health that we can build demographic resilience in Asia and the Pacific.
We also need to strengthen collaboration between demographically diverse countries. Shared solutions are needed to address common challenges because no country is self-sufficient in our increasingly interdependent world. All countries must work together for greater equity and solidarity so that our planet can meet the needs and aspirations of all its inhabitants.
On World Population Day, let’s shift the conversation from numbers to rights and choices. Humanity is a source of limitless aspirations and opportunities, and as the world grows to 8 billion people strong, let us work together to harness the potential of the 4.3 billion people in Asia and the Pacific, and across -of the. By investing together in the rights and choices of every individual, especially women and girls, we can build a resilient and healthier future for everyone and for the planet.
Björn Andersson is the Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health.
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