The world is quickly becoming much older. After years of viewing ageing only as a concern for developed economies, ageing is now on the point of going global.
In 2000, for the first time in history, there were more people over 60 than children below five. By 2050, the aged population will be larger than the under-15 population. In just 10 years, the number of older persons will surpass one billion—an increase of close to 200 million over the decade. Today, two out of three people aged 60 or over live in developing and emerging economies. By 2050, this will rise to nearly four in five. This unprecedented silent revolution in the ageing populating is happening everywhere but is progressing faster in developing countries.
Population ageing is going global. Developing countries, where the population is growing fastest, face a serious dearth of powerful and effective ways in which governments and global institutions are communicating and suggesting changes. An ageing population requires urgent, strategic action at the national, regional and global levels.
The Government of Nepal has made important efforts in recent years to analyse and address population dynamics. The launch of the national Population Perspective Plan, the recent National Adolescent and Youth Survey and the current process to assess achievement and future vision for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014, have been impressive initiatives. However, Nepal’s changing population context, as with countries around the world, requires even more attention.
To mark the International Day of Older Persons on October 1 and to promote a wider discussion on the issue of ageing, HelpAge International and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are co-launching a global report titled ‘Ageing in the Twenty-first Century: A Celebration and a Challenge’. The report indicates that the number of older persons is growing faster than any other age group and underlines the fact that while the trend of ageing societies is a cause for celebration, as we live longer, healthier and more productive lives, it also presents great challenges. The report includes the stories of 1,300 older men and women who participated in group discussions in 36 countries around the world.
The UNFPA and HelpAge International acknowledge that older persons make massive contributions to society as mediators, educators, workers, volunteers, homemakers and caregivers. Senior citizens are thus an enviable source of knowledge, historical significance and the guardians of culture. Increasingly, older generations are becoming active in political processes, forming their own organisations and campaigning for change.
However, population ageing also presents major challenges. A large aged population means an increase in the demand for income security, health and long-term care, which creates great social, economic and cultural challenges that will need to be addressed with strong political will and appropriate policies. New approaches to health care, retirement, living arrangements and inter-generational relations are required.
Today’s growing ageing population has urgent concerns, particularly in income security and access to affordable health care. Current policies and practices, for example in health delivery and the workplace, often discriminate against older people, as they make up an increasing percentage of informal sector workers without protection. Issues such as the increasing numbers of older people who are bringing up children alone because of migration need to be addressed.
The continued mismanagement of ageing is not an option. Everyone must be involved, including governments, civil society, communities, families and older persons themselves to harness the concept of ‘Active Ageing’. We hope that the global report will catalyse all communities and groups to ensure that the contributions and rights of older people are recognised and promoted. Actions on these issues are essential to unlocking the potential of population ageing. If not addressed, there will be great consequences not just for older people but for the social, economic and political fabric of countries.
(McFarlane is country representative of UNFPA & Nirola country director of HelpAge International-Nepal)