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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Tue Jun 6 06:51:02 2000
Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2000 21:57:28 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: ECONOMY-LATIN AMERICA: Poor, Sick And Ageing Fast
Article: 97608
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Poor, Sick And Ageing Fast

By Gumisai Mutume, IPS, 2 June 2000

WASHINGTON, Jun 2 (IPS) Latin America is sitting on a time bomb - a population ageing faster than governments are investing in programmes to cope with the impending demand for social services.

Studies presented this week at an Inter American Development Bank (IDB) seminar on ageing in Latin America are cause for concern. They show that the age structure of the population in Latin America will progressively acquire the characteristics of industrialised countries and in 25 years nearly 100 million people in the region will be above the age of 60.

Some countries such as Columbia, which is one of the fastest ageing states in the world, will see its over-60 population grow by 350 percent between 1990 and 2025. This poses serious challenges to state institutions already battling to deal with other social issues notes the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Unlike in industrialised nations, we have poor raw materials, says Alexandre Kalache an acting director at the WHO. Tomorrow's ageing population are today's sick children. Tomorrow's ageing population are today 's uneducated and poor children. Developing countries are becoming old before they become rich.

Latin America invests too little in its population as seen in the wide income disparities that make it the most unequal region in the world. High unemployment, poor domestic savings, lack of adequate housing and education will all mature with its population.

The severe social problems and imbalances in the region will project into the future and will influence dramatically the quality of life and dignity of people in old age, IDB President Enrique Iglesias told the Jun. 1-2 conference on Ageing in Latin America and the Caribbean.

About 100 international experts met this week at the IDB headquarters in Washington, to review the condition of older adults and identify strategies to support active and healthy ageing, particularly for the poorest populations in the region.

Today only eight percent of Latin America's population is estimated to be above 60 but in 25 years' time this will double. Uruguay, one of the hardest hit, will have 20 percent of its population above the retirement age.

Chile has the highest life expectancy in the region followed by Argentina and Uruguay. By 2025 between 32 and 40 percent of these countries' populations will be above the age of 60, putting a strain on the working population. Governments may have to tax them further.

A study by the IDB, Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), WHO and the Andaluzan School of Public Health in Spain says Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have updated their pension, social services and health systems to a certain degree. However, their coverage is insufficient to satisfy basic needs for many in areas such as nutrition, housing and health. Limited pension plans exclude the possibility of work.

In Chile about 12 percent of senior citizens receive a pension of about 60 dollars a month and between 30 and 40 percent are unable to draw a pension or are unaware of government's responsibilities toward the elderly, the report says. In a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries as much as 90 percent of the elderly retire from the informal sector that provides no benefits at age 60.

A remarkable achievement of the 20th Century is that due to health improvements people are living longer. But the speed at which less- developed countries are ageing is much greater than in industrialised nations. For example, it took 115 years for the older population of France to increase from seven to 17 percent, but a comparable change will occur in China in just 27 years.

It is also estimated that by 2030 nearly three-quarters of people aged 60 and above will be living in less-developed countries.

This is this scenario that now has Latin American governments and policy makers examining the needs and demands of ageing populations. They are also looking at the large contribution older people make to communities and to development so they are not rendered inactive after the age of 60.

Older people, especially in developing countries, often continue to work and support their families. In Zimbabwe, 82 percent of men and 70 percent of women over 60 are still economically active, says Petersen, however the scourge of AIDS means they are now taking on the role of caregivers.

In almost all regions of the world, women live longer than men. However, women are often not covered by pension schemes because they were either informally employed or their contributions were much less than their male counterparts due to lower earnings and breaks in careers for child rearing.

IDB Social Development chief Mayra Buvinic says Latin America is seeing an erosion of family structures away from the extended family, which in the past provided a support system for the elderly.

Regional Vice President of the International Federation of Ageing, Ramon Gutmann says what is also worrying is that in Latin America rather than address the problem with comprehensive policies and investments in human resources, politicians use it to win votes and forget about it after the elections.

Latin American countries endorsed the objectives of the programme of action of the UN International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994.

In the area of ageing, the ICPD programme seeks to enhance self- reliance, productive and independent living and develop systems of health-care, economic and social security. It highlights the special needs of women, and calls for support systems that allow families to take care of older persons within the family.

We still know far too little about the reality of elderly people in developing countries, however, we do know that many of them have very little contact with the state, says HelpAge International chief executive Todd Petersen.