The United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing

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The Second World Assembly on Ageing (WAA) was held in Madrid, Spain, from 8 to 12 April 2002. Over 150 states were represented at the Assembly along with a number of United Nations bodies and programmes, specialised and related organisations and intergovernmental organisations. Observer status was granted to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from throughout the world, including international NGOs. The purpose of the WAA was to finalise and adopt a Political Declaration and an International Plan of Action on Ageing.

New Zealand's official delegation to the Second World Assembly on Ageing comprised myself, Jenni Nana, Policy Manager, Ministry of Social Development (Delegation Leader); Christine Bogle, Ambassador, New Zealand Embassy, Madrid; and Deborah Prowse, Second Secretary, New Zealand Embassy, Madrid. Age Concern New Zealand, through Garth Taylor, Chief Executive, and Dr Sally Keeling, researcher, Christchurch, provided New Zealand non-government representation.

The government of Spain hosted the WAA, which was opened by Kofi Anan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Other opening addresses were delivered by Her Royal Highness the Infanta Dona Christina of Spain, Good Will Ambassador to the WAA; and the President of Spain, His Excellency Jose Maria Aznar, who was elected President of the Assembly. The opening ceremony and all plenary sessions, where country delegates delivered their statements, were live webcast and can be viewed on the United Nations web site

The work during the WAA was organised into several concurrent sessions each day. The main plenary hall was the venue for the delivery of country statements. A separate Main Committee was established, on which all official delegations were represented, to consider and negotiate the content of the Political Declaration and the International Plan of Action on Ageing.

To facilitate progress on the draft documents, particularly where there were clauses or sections where common agreement was problematic, sub-committees were established. They were charged with negotiating issues of concerns to reach a consensus between differing viewpoints, and reporting back to the Main Committee. Alongside the Main Committee, "country group" meetings were held to discuss and reach agreement within the group on issues of common concern, primarily relating to proposed text in the documents under negotiation.

In addition to these formal United Nations meetings, there was a programme of side events to discuss the wide range of issues relevant to ageing and the ageing population in both developed and developing nations. These included sessions by researchers and national government, inter-government and non-government organisations. There were continuing opportunities throughout each day for informal meetings and networking, as well as reviewing and obtaining relevant literature and information provided by the United Nations, member states and NGOs. Further opportunities for information sharing and networking were organised by various countries or organisations during or following the end of the formal sessions.


The plenary sessions provided the opportunity for a general exchange of views, through addresses from member states and from selected international NGOs. In the main, statements provided information about the particular situation of the ageing population within individual member states, identified issues of particular concern or interest, and gave expressions of support for the International Plan of Action on Ageing. There were a number of recurring themes in the issues identified in the statements from country groups.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict received a high level of attention, particularly in the statements delivered by the Arab nations' delegates. In part this was in response to the fact that, with the presence of the Secretary-General, much of the United Nations infrastructure was operating from Madrid. …