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UN Looks at World Population, Migration Trends - 2004-03-25

U.N. officials say that high death rates among young people are the most significant population concern for developing nations, where maternal mortality and HIV and AIDS are among the most pressing issues. The officials say the situation is very different in developed countries, where low fertility and an aging population are the greatest demographic challenges.

The United Nations has published two new reports providing an overview of world population and migration trends in the decade that followed a 1994 international population summit in Cairo.

The reports say progress has been made in curbing population growth. The world population growth rate is now about 1.3 percent a year, down from 1.7 percent a decade ago. HIV and AIDS, which have ravaged sub-Saharan Africa, have also caused a decrease in life expectancy in that region.

Over 80 percent of developing nations now list infant and child mortality, maternal mortality and HIV and AIDS as the most serious population issues. In addition to struggling with those challenges, three-quarters of African countries, along with most nations in the rest of the developing world, still view their population growth rate as too high.

U.N. Population Division Director Joseph Chamie told reporters that this is in sharp contrast to the developed world. "It is very clear," he said. "The number one issue that is of concern to the developing world is mortality and in some countries also rapid population growth. In contrast, a concern for many, if not most, developed countries is low fertility and declining population growth." The United Nations reports find that 40 percent of developed nations have adopted policies to raise their population growth and most are concerned about an aging population. At the same time, cutting back migration has become a common concern for both developed and developing nations. An estimated 175 million people, or three percent of the world population, are now international migrants, and that number is growing.

The director general of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, Brunson McKinley, says the United Nations is working with developing nations on international labor issues. He says officials are trying to find ways to turn the so-called brain drain, the migration of educated and professional segments of developing nations' population to developed countries, into a benefit for everyone.

"In a nutshell, how to use that overseas talent and overseas money, a lot of which flows back already in the form of remittances, in a better fashion, is a big challenge," he said. "Matching up the needs for workers and professionals in richer societies with people who have the right qualifications in developing countries is another big international labor market function which is coming along and we are working on and I think holds the key to the future."

Mr. McKinley said the majority of people who migrate today are not fleeing persecution but are searching for a better life. He appealed to U.N. member states to create an organized, comprehensive approach to migration and to ensure that security concerns in the war on terrorism do not hamper the movement of innocent migrants.