Director of the Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
In more and more countries around the world, population numbers are starting to fall, but no region is more affected by this change than Eastern Europe.
The latest population projections from the United Nations show this trend clearly: nine of the world’s 10 fastest-shrinking countries are in Eastern Europe. This ranking is led by Bulgaria and Latvia, both of which are expected to lose almost one quarter of their population by 2050. Others are not far behind. If these projections hold true, virtually every country in the region will see its population shrink over the coming decades.
Many people in the region are alarmed by these trends. They worry about how a smaller – and increasingly older – population will affect their country’s economy, and the future of its social systems and vital infrastructure in depopulated areas. They fear a smaller country may be less powerful or influential. Some are worried about their country’s very survival.
Attempts by countries in the region to reverse this trend by providing financial incentives to parents to have more children have largely failed. The resources needed to influence birth rates in the longer term through social transfers are just too costly for the often weak economies of Eastern Europe to shoulder.
So what’s the solution? The concurrence in 2019-20 of the 25th anniversaries of two major international frameworks – the Programme of Action adopted by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the 1995 World Conference on Women – provides a unique opportunity to set responses to Eastern Europe’s population crisis on a new track.
The ICPD, whose anniversary was marked at a Summit in Nairobi in November 2019, and the Beijing Platform have one key goal in common that makes them so relevant for addressing demographic change. They put the focus squarely on the individual with their needs and rights. It is not about numbers. It is about people. And empowering women is not only a human rights imperative, but benefits all aspects of society as a whole.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has decades of experience advising governments on how to manage demographic transitions so that countries emerge stronger and more prosperous. The evidence gathered allows us to distill five key lessons on what to do about shrinking and ageing populations – and turn the demographic change often perceived as a crisis into opportunity:
In change there’s always opportunity. Using the momentum generated by the ICPD25 and Beijing25 celebrations, and bringing the principles enshrined in these platforms into the core of the policy debate on population dynamics can help unlock a path for countries to grow - not only in numbers, but in opportunity, stability and prosperity for generations to come.
Photo: Participants celebrate at the closing ceremony of the International Conference on Population and Development's (ICPD) 25th anniversary Summit in Nairobi, November 2019 © Nairobi Summit