As forum on ageing opens in Madrid, Annan says older persons are 'our future selves'

As forum on ageing opens in Madrid, Annan says older persons are 'our future selves'

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Rapidly changing demographics, in which almost 2 billion people worldwide will be over the age of 60 by the middle of the century, posed "enormous challenges" and called for urgent attention, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as a major United Nations forum on ageing issues opened this morning in Madrid.

Rapidly changing demographics, in which almost 2 billion people worldwide will be over the age of 60 by the middle of the century, posed "enormous challenges" and called for urgent attention, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as a major United Nations forum on ageing issues opened this morning in Madrid.

Delegates to the weeklong Second World Assembly on Ageing will seek to adopt a revised action plan first agreed to in 1982 in Vienna to deal with such challenges as well as long-term policies for tackling the growing age disparity.

In his address, Mr. Annan noted that as more people moved to cities, older persons were losing traditional family support and social networks, and were increasingly at risk of being marginalized. The HIV/AIDS crisis was also forcing many older people in developing countries to care for children orphaned by the disease - of which there were now more than 13 million worldwide.

At the same time, the Secretary-General said, the concept of cradle-to-grave security was fast disappearing in many developed countries, as the shrinking size of the working population meant that older persons were even more at risk of inadequate pensions and medical attention.

Ageing was definitely no longer just a "first world issue," Mr. Annan added, pointing out that the unprecedented "demographic transformation" bore implications for every community, institution and individual - young and old.

Noting that "we will all grow old one day," the Secretary-General urged delegates not to look at older persons "as people separate from ourselves, but as our future selves," and to recognize that older people were all individuals, with individual needs and strengths.

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" Mr. Annan, who turned 64 on Monday, said as he quoted lyrics from the Beatles song in summarizing the plight of older persons. "I trust that the answer is yes, older people will be provided for, and yes, older people will be needed, in the 21st century."

For his part, General Assembly President Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea stressed the international development targets set forth in the Millennium Declaration would not be achievable without the mainstreaming of ageing and concerns of older persons into development frameworks and poverty eradication strategies.

He also urged that the skills, experience, knowledge and wisdom of older people should be put to use for promoting human capacity building and sustained economic growth, which would benefit both older persons and society as a whole.

"Older persons should be regarded as an asset, not a burden," he said. "This truth is well-recognized in the folk wisdom of many countries. As the old proverb says, 'There's many a good tune played on an old fiddle.'"