Respecting the dignity of the elderly in disaster rehabilitation
As Dominicans struggle to cope with the trauma caused by the devastation of Tropical Storm Erika the issue of the state of the elderly should be on the top of our priority lists.
This should be so because older persons in communities especially those severely affected by Erika are most vulnerable. For example, the older persons of Petite Savanne who had to be evacuated from the village where they have lived for more than six decades will find it especially difficult to adjust to a new life elsewhere. We hope the Dominica Council on Ageing (DCA) is at the forefront of advocating for special attention to the elderly from that community. Thus the DCA may wish to consider that issue of the plight of older persons and disasters as a possible theme as it plans activities for the 2015 observance of the International Day of Older Persons (IDOP); although the United Nations has suggested the theme: "Sustainability and Age Inclusiveness in the Urban Environment" so as to focus attention on the impact of the new urban environment on older persons but also the impact of older persons on the new urban environment.
Whatever the theme that the DCA selects to observe the IDOP, the issue of the negative treatment of older persons in our societies must be highlighted. We believe that such treatment is an indication of the degenerative values that are evident in our community; the misguided concept that youth is exciting and promising, while the old are useless and impotent like yesterday's news. Undoubtedly, we are making a serious mistake by relegating older persons to the sidelines.
According to Help Age International, older persons face a number of issues including chronic illness, limited access to health care and medication, poor housing, lack of economic security and livelihoods, social isolation, neglect and abuse. What is more alarming is that the situation is getting worse as numbers of our senior citizens increase and Dominica grapples with a comatose economy following the death of the banana industry and more recently by the ravages of TS Erika.
Although statistics on the number of old persons who are below the poverty line in Dominica are not available, in developing countries generally, older persons are among the poorest and the most vulnerable in society because governments have not made adequate provision to take care of their old persons. Help Age estimates that worldwide more than 100 million older persons now live on less than US$1 a day. And the numbers of older persons are increasing.
The world's population is ageing because more and more persons are living longer lives. This is due to improvements in sanitation and health as well as the decrease in fertility rates. According to the United Nations' publication "World Population Ageing 2013" ,the global share of older people (aged 60 years or over) increased from 9.2 per cent in 1990 to 11.7 per cent in 2013 and will continue to grow as a proportion of the world population, reaching 21.1 per cent by 2050. Globally, the number of older persons (aged 60 years or over) is expected to more than double, from 841 million people in 2013 to more than 2 billion in 2050. Older persons are projected to exceed the number of children for the first time in 2047.
In Dominica, the figure has been estimated at 13.5 percent of the population. We anticipate that the last census data, whenever it is released, will shed some light on the actual status of Dominica's older persons.
Nevertheless, these numbers that we quoted earlier have caused people here and abroad to claim that the ageing population is a "time bomb" or an "age-quake" with potentially tsunami–like impact on the economy. For example, many fear that social security systems could collapse under the weight of carrying too many old persons. However, we are of the view that our country's alarmingly low production and productivity, as well as the hemorrhaging of our young work force to other countries through immigration, are more serious threats to the sustainability of the Dominica Social Security system than the ageing population. The question therefore for Dominica's leaders is how to develop policies aimed at improving the economy so that the country can keep its older persons healthy, integrate them in society and enable them to improve the quality of their lives.
During the observance of IDOP 2015 we also need to pause to assess how far we have come in our efforts at utilizing the valuable and treasured resource that are our older citizens. One of the messages sent to the media from the Dominica Council on Ageing a few years ago puts this idea rather succinctly by stating: "Our seniors are walking libraries-let us learn from them."
As part of an assessment of our policy towards older persons, we suggest the consideration of the enactment, or review, of laws aimed at the protection of older persons. Certainly, there should be a law which prescribes severe punishment to persons who are found guilty of stealing from senior citizens. These thieves include so-called "upstanding persons" and especially relatives who take advantage of older persons' senility and loss of memory to grab their property.
As we observe IDOP in a few days, Dominicans should endeavour to take small but significant steps such as offering an older person a ride and driving slowly in order not to startle them into a corner. School children ought not to brush past, knocking old ladies with their elbows, forcing them to run into a little restaurant or hairdressing salon for shelter. As road-users they should be given priority, out of respect give them a chance to cross the street. Pedestrians, offer to carry their bags or baskets.
And as we hinted earlier on the IDOP 2015 we must remember the older persons of Petite Savanne.