Our population is ageing and ageing rapidly. Old age is a very sensitive and fragile period in life where elderly people need extra care and comfort.
The elderly population in Sri Lanka reached 3.6 million in 2019. It is a time the elderly in our care are prone to accidents. Parents, relatives or those whom we give care to age. They require more and more help because they lose their natural ability to take care of themselves and most times growing old presents its challenges.
A United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) Population projections show that the proportion of Sri Lankans above the age of 60 years will increase from 14% in 2017 to 22% by the year 2037. The Asian Development Blog (ADB) highlights the fact that in the coming years our country will have more elderly citizens and fewer working-age people to care for them.
The report adds, in a few decades nearly 25 per cent, which is around one in four of the population in our country will be over 60 with the vulnerable 80-year-old and above population increasing quickly.
President Wickremesinghe is on record saying that by 2050, he believes this country would have overcome its financial problems. Unfortunately, for most of those already in their sixties and seventies, the solution will come far too late, as they would have suffered the worst of the present crisis and probably have died of it.
This is the problem. Today, thanks to the financial crisis and indebtedness, we are short of foreign currency even to purchase the basics. Though we have a limited stock of food supply, the present spell of dry weather has dictated the forthcoming harvest will not produce expected quantities of basic food, including rice and perhaps even vegetables.
In turn, it will mean we will have to once again import the shortfall in production. Even presently, our export earnings including income from tourism, tea, rubber, and coconut will not be sufficient to meet import costs as well as to meet the requirement of repaying part of our external debt, which will also have to be met.
During a bygone era, elders were protected by the extended family system. However, today with the rise of the Capitalist economy, the extended family system is no more and the extended family of old has given way to the nuclear family.
Today the older generation is, for the most part, forced to depend on savings accumulated via government pension schemes and or the EPF/ETF pension funds.
To make matters worse, because of the financial meltdown, pension funds have fallen victim to the debt restructuring process and are among the worst affected. Interest rates of the fund have been drastically cut to meet creditor country requirements. Interest payments are now insufficient to meet the rising costs of living.
Moreover with ageing comes a variety of ailments that require medical treatment as well as costs of medicines. The present shortage of foreign currency has effectively prevented the import of sufficient stocks of drugs, making even those available, unaffordable.
In other words, the elderly will now have to depend on care homes, as they become increasingly unable to fend for themselves.
Countries like ours did not conquer or hold colonies but were the victims of the rapacious West. Therefore, unlike ‘developed’ Western countries, our social security systems are unable to cope with the changing demographics where a large section of our people come into a situation of being unable to look after themselves.
However, we cannot always be crying over the past. It is time to look after elder citizens.
The elders have done their share in helping build this country. It is now our turn to give back to those who have given so much.
Presently there are only a limited number of State-run care homes for elders. but they are unable to cope with the ever-increasing number of the elderly. There are also a number of private care homes already in existence. However, these homes are beyond the reach of a majority of the elderly.
Our government is bankrupt; it cannot by itself tackle the problems faced by an ageing population.
Can or will the Corporate Sector step up to help ease the need?
Disclaimer: Our ageing population amid the financial crisis - - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view