Preparing for an elderly population | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 04, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 04, 2011

Preparing for an elderly population

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Photo: Anisur Rahman

The United Nations (UN) International Day of Older Persons is celebrated on October 1 each year as a special day for the older persons worldwide. Like many other countries, Bangladesh also observed the day with different programmes and activities. Although, there is no internationally accepted age bracket for defining the elderly population, people aged 60 years or above are considered as elderly in most gerontological literature, Elderly population in the context of Bangladesh has been defined as those who have reached 60 years of age.
Population ageing in Bangladesh is gradually emerging as an issue not separate from social integration, gender advancement, economic stability or poverty. The older section of the population is increasing much faster than the total population. In Bangladesh, 6.9% of the population was classified as elderly in 1950, and is projected to increase to 8% in 2020 and 17% by 2050.
The median age of Bangladeshi population was nearly 20 years in 2000 and is projected to increase by nearly 15 years over the next half century. The ageing index, i.e. the ratio of the people aged 60 years or over to the children less than 15 years of age, might be about 5.7 times higher over the next half century due to the growing number of older persons and reduction of young population. Also, the old-age dependency ratio would be almost triple between 2000 and 2050 (WPP, 2008). Considering all these measuring indicators, the ageing of population is becoming a grave concern.
Population ageing is already having major consequences and implications in all areas of life, and will continue to do so. In the economic area, population ageing will affect economic growth, savings, investment and consumption, labour markets, pensions, taxation and the transfer of wealth, property and care from one generation to another. Furthermore, most of them are seriously suffering from some basic human needs-related challenges, viz. lack of minimum income and employment opportunities, extreme poverty, illness accompanied by absence of proper health/medical care, food and nutrition, living arrangements, isolation, exclusion, loneliness, negligence, psychosocial and cultural complexities, etc.
Family is the basic source of care for the elderly population. In the traditional joint family system, elderly people used to enjoy respectable and honourable life in the past. But, the scenario today is almost totally different from that. The process of ageing is taking place when this family pattern is breaking down due to urbanisation, migration, economic hardship, declining social values, self-interest, quarrels, maladjustment and so on. This changing situation and impact of other disadvantageous socio-economic conditions are causing problems and unhappiness for many elderly people, especially for those from the poor families.
The elderly people are becoming isolated or alienated from their kindred and, as a result, they live alone and face the problems on their own. After all, the declining health and physical status of the older people, together with a competitive employment market that discriminates on age, reduces the chances of older people finding well-paying jobs. There is also a mistaken presumption that elderly people are physically inactive, not open to new ideas and unable to participate effectively in economic activities. Under these circumstances, and also the downturn of the economy, soaring price of essential commodities and high inflation, the elderly population, particularly the poor, face social, health and economic insecurity.
Elderly population needs economic support including food, clothing, medical care, and housing as well as cultural support. In view of the size of the population, scarcity of resources, poverty, insufficient health facilities and absence of strong social security, ageing is going to be a major problem for Bangladesh.
The government is making efforts to ease the discomfort of its senior citizens by formulating old age security schemes and allocating its expenditure. However, given the limited resources and budget deficits, it can be a huge challenge to find solutions. Besides government initiatives, some non-government organisations (NGO) are also engaged in elderly welfare related activities. Unfortunately, the role of the NGOs is not yet satisfactory in this regard. Only a handful of them are involved in ageing-related activities as one of their side programmes.
In the current fiscal year (FY 2011-12), budgetary allocation of Tk. 891 crore has been proposed for 24.75 lac elderly people under the Old Age Allowance (OAA) programme. Though the OAA programme has been beneficial for the poor elderly people, there is a lack of clarity, accountability and proper monitoring -- along with corruption and nepotism -- in the selection process of the elderly. However, the existing allowances or programmes may help some of the elderly population, but most of them remain outside the programmes. Furthermore, some receive pension after retirement from their job, but their number is negligible.
The government has to face two here. To provide economic support to the vulnerable elderly as a constitutional obligation (as stated in [15(d)]), which is very much difficult for a poor country like Bangladesh, and the other is to ensure accountable governance to achieve the success of such programmes. However, specific measures are yet to be undertaken. Under these circumstances, more budgetary allocation regarding elderly population is needed. Besides, the number of beneficiaries should be increased.
There are many lessons that can be learnt from the experience of industrial societies that are facing the problems associated with an increase in their ageing population. Careful planning should make it possible for Bangladesh to take the best from the developed world's experience while avoiding negative features. Therefore, the government, with local and international organizations, should be more innovative in promoting and implementing policies and programmes to face the challenges and make the best of the opportunities that population ageing brings. If we want to live in peace and harmony at the age of 60 years and above, the nation should come forward for the well being of our respected senior citizens from now.

The writer is a Researcher at Unnayan Onneshan. E-mail: mustafiz.rahman@unnayan.org

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