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SARAJEVO – Investing in human capital, especially people’s health, education and innovative potential, is a key strategy for responding to demographic change in South-East Europe, participants concluded today at a regional population conference organized by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, in Sarajevo.

The countries of South-East Europe have experienced years of low birth rates and high levels of outmigration of mostly young people. In the absence of significant immigration, this has led to populations in the region becoming smaller and older. Some of the world’s fastest shrinking and ageing countries are in South-East Europe, and governments are concerned about negative consequences for the economy, social systems and infrastructures.

“Clearly the rapid demographic change in South-East Europe requires urgent responses,” said Alanna Armitage, UNFPA Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “But we must move away from doomsday scenarios and focus on turning crisis into opportunity.”

The over 100 participants from government, civil society, international organizations and academia identified a range of strategies for addressing demographic change. These included engaging with diasporas, better integration of women and older people in the labour market, and investments in the education and health of people throughout the entire lifecourse. Changing realities in employment and innovations in technology also offer new opportunities. Many speakers stressed the transformative power of ensuring equality between men and women.

“In essence, the goal must be to create countries that people want to live in, and establishing societies that allow young people to realize their dreams, build their own future,” said Armitage.

She stressed that building human capital must be part of broader reforms aimed at strengthening the economy, good governance and the rule of law, and reducing inequalities in the context of efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The two-day conference was organized by UNFPA in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The conference is a part of series of events leading up to the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to be held in Nairobi, Kenya on 13-15 November 2019. 

This year UNFPA marks its 50th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which recognized that people with their rights and needs, not numbers, must be at the centre of population policies.