Pakistan, which is among the world’s 15 countries with more than 10 million people aged 60 and above, will have 43.3 million people (15.8%) of the said age group by 2025 as compared to 11.6 million in 2012. Globally too, the number of people aged 60 or above is growing faster than any other age group, and is expected to reach 1 billion within just 10 years. It is, therefore, imperative for governments to address the needs of the graying population before they are taken by surprise.
These eye-opening data, along with a note of caution, were shared at the launching of a report titled ‘Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge.’ The report was released by UNFPA and HelpAge International on Monday to coincide with the International Day of Older Persons. UNFPA Representative Rabbi Royan and Country Director of HelpAge International-Pakistan Ajeeba Aslam were prominent at the head table.
The report informs that in the past decade alone, the number of people aged 60 or over has risen by 178 million, equivalent to nearly the entire population of Pakistan, which is the 6th most populous country in the world. Today, two out of every three people aged 60 or over, live in developing countries. By 2050, nearly four in five people aged 60 and over will live in the developing world.
On an optimistic note, the report concedes that while population presents enormous challenges for governments, it need not be seen as a crisis but a cause for celebration. It can and should be planned for in order to transform challenges into opportunities. The report lays out a compelling rationale for investments that ensure a good quality of life when people age, and suggests positive solutions which are feasible even for poorer countries.
The report also challenges the international community to do more on ageing in the development sphere. There is a clear rationale for explicit development goals on ageing (which are notably missing in the current MDGs framework) underpinned by capacity development, budgets and policies along with improved research and analysis on ageing. “As countries chart a course beyond 2015, population ageing and policy responses to the concerns of older persons must be at the heart of the process.”
In 2000, for the first time in history, there were more people over 60 than children below 5. By 2050, for the first time, there will be more older people than children under 15. In 2012, 810 million people were aged 60 or over, accounting for 11.5% of the global population. The number is projected to surpass 1 billion in less than 10 years and more than double by 2050, reaching 2 billion and accounting for 22% of the global population.
If not addressed promptly, the consequences of these issues are likely to take unprepared countries by surprise. In many developing countries with large populations of young people, for example, the challenge is that governments have not put policies and practices in place to support their current older populations or made enough preparations for 2050.
The report also includes the voices of 1,300 older men and women who participated in group discussions in 236 countries around the world. Of the 1,300 participants, 43% say that they are afraid of personal violence; 49% believe they are treated with respect, 61% use a mobile phone; 53% say that they find it difficult or very difficult to pay for basic services; 44% describe their current health status as fair; and 34% find it difficult or very difficult to access health care when they need it.
The report says important progress has been made by many countries in adopting new policies, strategies, plans and laws on ageing. For example, over 100 countries in the last decade have put in place, non-contributory social pensions in recognition of old-age poverty. But much more needs to be done to fulfill the potential of our ageing population.
Globally, only one-third of countries, covering just 28% of the global population, have comprehensive social protection schemes covering all branches of social security. The cost of a universal pension for over 60s in developing countries would range between just 0.7% and 2.6% of GDP.
Even though 47% percent of older men and 23.8% of older women around the world are participating in the labour force, yet despite the contributions that a socially and economically active and healthy ageing population can give to society, many older persons worldwide face continued discrimination, abuse and violence. The report calls for governments, civil society, and the public to work together to end these destructive practices and to invest in older people.
According to the report, more than 46% of people aged 60 years and above worldwide have disabilities. More than 250 million older people experience moderate to severe disability. The number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated at 35.6 million and is projected to nearly double every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030.
Speaking at the report’s launching, Rabbi Royan said, “There has been a lack of preparedness in many countries in this region, and in Pakistan, for meeting the challenges of population ageing. This is so because the region has been young, demographically speaking. But the speed and scale of demographic change very often catch us off-guard.”
Ajeeba Aslam said, “Population ageing, especially in developing countries like Pakistan, requires urgent strategic actions at the national, regional and global levels. We need to start investing in our older population through increased employment, business opportunities and pensions, supporting their roles as caregivers to children, and improving access to quality healthcare, particularly by increasing investment in prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases.”
In Pakistan, the Senior Citizens Bill is pending in the Parliament since 2007. It is hoped that the facts contained in the report will provide evidence enough to share the country’s policy-makers out of their current state of slumber vis-à-vis the wellbeing of the ageing population.