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Speech by Mr. Arthur Erken, UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam at workshop on sharing international and national experiences in harnessing opportunities from demographic changes for Socio-Economic Development and Implications for Viet Nam

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Date: Friday, 7 November 2014
Event: Workshop on sharing international and national experiences in harnessing opportunities from demographic changes for Socio-Economic Development and Implications for Viet Nam
Venue: Song Hong Thu Do resort, Vinh Phuc province

Mr. Nguyen The Phuong, Vice Minister of Planning and Investment, MPI
Dr. Bui Tat Thang, President, DSI/MPI;  
Drafting Team for Report on Directions for Socio-Economic Development for Viet Nam in the period 2016-2020;
Drafting Team for Viet Nam 2030 Report;
Representatives of the MPI, GSO, other line ministries, and research institutions, Experts, Representatives of international organizations and UN colleagues;
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning to you all.
On behalf of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Viet Nam, I would like to thank the Development Strategy Institute (DSI) for organising this important workshop. This is a great opportunity to share international and national experiences on harnessing opportunities from demographic changes for socio-economic development of Viet Nam. This workshop is an extremely important step in the process of formulating the Report on Social Economic Development, 2016-2020, which will be submitted to the 12nd Party Congress in early 2016, for the Party's review. So, this is the opportune moment for us to provide evidence-based advice to effectively contribute to the SEDP development. We highly appreciate the Government of Vietnam's efforts for a well-organized plan for the preparation of the next SEDP, which is also crucial from a global perspective in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Distinguished guests,  
In Viet Nam, data from the population census and surveys show that the country has been undergoing significant demographic changes: a rapid decline in fertility and mortality, a rapid and large scale internal migration, leading to significant and rapid urbanization; and a skewed sex ratio at birth. In addition, the country has entered a  period in which it should maximally benefit from a demographic bonus, with the largest-ever young population. At the same time, we stand at the beginning of a period in which we will also see the population ageing rapidly, at a rate that is much faster than in some of our neighboring countries. These factors have increasingly an impact on the development of the nation and the implementation of national and local socio-economic development strategies and plans. Let me take this opportunity to highlight three key issues that are important for Viet Nam and the international community as we go forward:

First, as you are aware, data shows that Viet Nam has made impressive progress in achieving its population goals. The average Vietnamese woman now has just 2 children in her lifetime, down from more than 6 in the early 1970s. Such fertility rate at around the replacement level has been sustained for a decade. This means that the government can now shift its focus from population control to population and development. More concretely, the government will need to ensure that population variables are well integrated into all sectoral development plans, be it on education, health, infrastructure, economic reforms, social security and protection. Also, more attention must be paid to the issues of inequalities and disparities, which have been increasing and are accompanied by new forms of poverty and vulnerability. As we have witnessed in the monitoring process of the MDGs, progress made at the national level often masks disparities at the sub-national level.

Second, Viet Nam has entered a period of demographic dividend, recording the highest proportion of young people ever in the country's history. This provides a unique economic opportunity for the country’s development, but also creates challenges. Young people have played a significant role in Viet Nam’s growth and they represent an increasingly large proportion of the labour force, both now and well into the future. Therefore, investing in the education and health, including sexual and reproductive health, of adolescents and young people is of utmost importance to Viet Nam’s productivity and development in the future. We need to ensure that young people receive the support and grow up in an youth-friendly environment to become the present and future custodians of the country. The demographic dividend is giving Viet Nam a once-in-lifetime unique opportunity. Only if we seize the opportunity, it will be translated into a demographic bonus.

Last but not the least, we need to take note that the issue of the linkage between population and development is becoming increasingly important world-wide. The issue has been highlighted in the global discussions, both on the ICPD's Programme of Action beyond 2014, and the post-2015 development agenda and the inter-governmental negotiations around a new set of sustainable development goals. The challenges related to population and development are also intertwined with other issues related to poverty, patterns of consumption, and inequality. As people are the center of development, their rights, needs and well-being should be at the center of our policies, strategies, and development plans. Therefore, population issues should be integrated into development planning at both national and sub-national levels, including in the next SEDP.
Ladies and gentlemen,  
UNFPA in Viet Nam very much appreciates the Government of Viet Nam in providing the overall direction for the socio-economic development of Viet Nam. We also appreciate the leadership of MPI in support of utilizing population data and evidence for the socio-economic development planning. Building the country's capacity to produce and use reliable and disaggregated data for development planning has long been an institutional priority for UNFPA and other development partners. In the context of the development of the next SEDP (2016-2020), the availability and utilization of quality, reliable and comparable population information for evidence-based planning has become even more crucial and plays an ever more prominent role, not only in planning for development, but also in monitoring progress, evaluating results and adjusting plans and strategies, as and when needed.

As a leading UN agency on population and development, UNFPA is happy to support the Government in developing population and development policies, which form an integral part of the country's overall national socio-economic development. Our role is also to assist the government to fully conform to the Principles of the ICPD PoA and other relevant international conventions, to which the Government of Viet Nam is a signatory.

Thank you very much for your attention and participation. I wish you all good health, happiness and success.