The Elderly Plight: A Humanitarian Crisis

On April 8, 2014:

The primary focus in demography of Nepal has hinged on policies geared towards the economically active population with a significant emphasis on fundamental rights among women and low caste groups. However, policy wonks have somewhat failed at leading a vibrant discussion on the urgent need to address issues related to the elderly population, aged 60 above.

Their lack of genuine interest on the policy side is more disturbing, given the elderly accounts for about 9.1 percent of the total population in Nepal. Moreover, socio-economic welfare concerns for the elderly population will most likely matter even more in near future, with almost 57 percent of the total population belonging to the working age group of 15-59.

For the last one year, elderly citizens have reportedly staged a sit-in protest on the premises of the Department of Transportation Management demanding 50 percent discount for public transportation and medical facilities. In addition, they have continuously exerted an outward pressure on the government seeking a higher monthly allowance from the current Rs. 500 to Rs. 3,000.

What's worse, the government appears to make a half-baked commitment towards the protesting party with vague promises, claiming that the elderly citizens have previously denied the governmental invitation for further discussion on their demands. On the other side, the elderly continues to allege that the government officials remain oblivious of their pressing concerns and haven't formally invited them for fresh talks yet.

While accusatory remarks persist across both the parties, what's more unfortunate is the underlying challenge ahead to implement any policy change in practice. The failure to execute a governmental decision made in the recent past to provide 50 percent concession on transport fare for senior citizens is a case in point. More importantly, the issue on elderly demands has raised serious questions that relevant stakeholders, mostly the youth and the law makers today, need to meditate over considering the humanitarian and socio-economic grounds respectively.

First and foremost, it is imperative that we do a bit of self-reflection towards better understanding the sources of origin potentially leading to a trace of dissatisfaction among the elderly groups. One could argue that the economically active population, including the young generation today, has been moderately indifferent towards the plight of the old people.

Admittedly, most of the seated passengers in public buses open-heartedly offering their seats to the older cohort is a rare sight in the Kathmandu valley. Sadly, we don't witness bus conductors or drivers being slow and cautious with the elderly either. Rather, they ignominiously shout at the senior citizens for taking more time to get off the bus. They further demonstrate their outright impatience and disrespect publicly with acidulous remarks or sometimes even a curse. This rather depressing sight is fairly common even in private and public hospitals, where we barely see empty chairs reserved exclusively for the older cohort.

Unfortunately, we haven't succeeded yet in vigorously cultivating a culture that requires that the youth cheerfully stand up and voluntarily offer seats to old men and women. We, the young and the healthiest, most likely overlook the need for such a casual yet benevolent gesture, partly because we are obstinately preoccupied with our own problems. In addition, we appear to be less sensitive towards their emotional needs and weakening physical attributes. Understandably, our self-centered attitude and lack of ability to be more receptive towards their behavioral needs has potentially sown at least some seeds of growing dissatisfaction among the elderly.

Second and most important of all, the law-makers have failed at delving into the socio-economic repercussions of the failure to address the elderly needs from the humanitarian perspective. Strikingly, Elderly Population Act 2006 has made provisions to provide special seating arrangements for the elderly people in transportation and other public services. Similarly, disbursement of the older age allowance as per the Local Development Act 1995-96, Article 233(2) sheds rosy anticipations, yet appears vague towards advancing the interests of the senior citizens.

The government, in fact, has failed to exhibit concrete herculean efforts towards translating the humanitarian concerns for the elderly into practice. The recent governmental claim to have invited the protesting old somewhat betrays its genuine concerns for the elderly and leaves some tangible grounds for suspicion. Isn't a politician hypocritical for talking about human dignity while not taking any significant steps towards implementing reasonable social welfare programs?

On a brighter side, we can take baby steps on our own towards enriching the lives of the elderly poor. At best, we can afford to be more vocal about their current economic needs and encourage others to behave politely with the elderly. The elderly, however, can't have their demands met without continued support from the relevant stakeholders: the government and the policy makers. It is high time that the government took a giant leap towards emulating generous social welfare schemes targeted at the senior citizens all over the world, such as Medicare administered by the U.S. federal government guaranteeing an access to health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older.

Although well-grounded claims for socio-economic welfare of the elderly people need to be addressed urgently, the matter of the fact is we can't anticipate a drastic policy change favoring their needs overnight. As the ongoing protests continue, substantial policy shifts will hopefully ensue in near future. In spite of this, the youth and law makers need to display inherent solidarity towards the elderly concerns both from the humanitarian as well as economic perspective. However, something as convenient and trivially applicable as offering seats with open hearts in public places can contribute towards making a significant impact on the issue. As the economically active population slowly ages, it behooves us to lead a path towards cultivating such culture vibrantly. This is the only way towards dignifying our genuine love and concerns for the elderly.