It’s time to face the facts

An older man smiles warmly.

Older people exist in developing countries and they must not be left behind. It’s time to face the facts about ageing and development.

Meet Haji. He is 70 years old and lives in a rural area of Tanzania. He is married with 8 children but they don’t live close by so he and his wife have to look after themselves.

Haji was a lucky man until recently because he farms his own plot of land and had enough to earn a living – retirement was never an option because Haji doesn’t have a pension or savings.

Unfortunately, like many other older people, Haji lost his sight due to cataracts. “I’m totally dependent on other people,” he explains. “I can’t carry out any household tasks; I can’t even wash or bathe myself on my own. I am dependent on others for everything.”

Haji’s situation is typical for many older people living in developing countries. He has lived a full and active life, he has been economically independent and yet is very vulnerable to the challenges later life can bring.

For Haji and many others, being older is not a time of respite or relaxation, but can be a time of hardship and even isolation with little or no income.

‘If I don’t have money, I can’t eat well’

tanzania_balinda_i_am_67

Blandina set up an Older People’s group  in her own community

Now meet Blandina, who also lives in Tanzania. She is 67 and has set up an Older People’s Group in her own community. She explains: “I became an activist for older people because I saw people in later life were being forgotten and their rights were being ignored.”

After retiring from being a nurse, Blandina realised that while the first part of her working life was over, she wasn’t finished contributing to the community. She is lucky. She has a very modest state pension of £18.50 a month, a garden to grow vegetables in and the support of her children.

But even Blandina struggles to eat a balanced diet: “I don’t always have the money to buy it. And if I don’t have money, I can’t eat well and that affects my health.”

It’s time to Face the facts

A grandma in China holds her grandchild.

An older woman in China with her grandson.

The lives of these two typical and remarkable people represent just some of the realities Age International is trying to call attention to in our new publication “Facing the facts: the truth about ageing and development”. A series of articles written by high-profile thought leaders, academics and researchers, “Facing the facts” aims to raise awareness of the importance of ageing and older people for development.

The need for this discussion could not be greater. In just a few short decades, more than 20 per cent of the world’s population will be over the age of 60, and 80 per cent of these over-60s will live in developing countries.

Yet decision makers in government and development agencies continue to turn a blind eye to these facts.

In a recent debate in the House of Commons, MPs spent almost 3 hours talking about how to improve the lives of people in developing countries. Not once were older people mentioned. Not once were the needs and rights of the many people in later life like Haji and Blandina recognised.

Time for change

Haji is completely dependent on other people due to cataracts.

Haji is completely dependent on other people due to his cataracts.

The articles in Facing the facts explain how population ageing is changing the very shape of every society across the globe. They show us the enormous economic contributions older people make and the potential they have for improving the lives of the people around them.

Facing the facts shows clearly the health and income challenges that can come with being older in lower- and middle-income countries. It also reminds us of the inherent dignity of what it means to be older and the need to ensure our rights continue to be protected at all stages of life.

Later this year, UN member states will agree a new sustainable development goal framework that will define how we tackle poverty, inequality and climate change over the next 15 years.

The UK Government has been championing these goals and the need to ensure that they ‘leave no one behind’. We would like to see the UK take the lead in recognising ageing and older people as integral to the success of this framework.

Decisions start with dialogue and we would like to see Facing the facts kick-start a much needed conversation in Westminster about ageing and development.

Help us to ensure that international development no longer ignores ageing and the realities facing older people. Help us to change the world for older people like Haji and Blandina.

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