Facts on Lanka's ageing population
October is an outstanding month in the calendar since Children's Day
cum Elder's Day were celebrated on the first of this month. This year
the celebrative spirit is more entrenched what with the brilliant
performance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the UNGO Summit held in
New York at the tail end of September.
In his pristine white national suit, the Kurakkan-hued shawl thrown
across his torso our moustachioed head of State did cut a dashing figure
in that assembly of those wearily clad in black and white uniforms. And
the eloquent speech on behalf of little Lanka harassed by a good part of
the international community incited by prejudicial parties, more than
balanced his looks.
Though rejoicing over the misfortunes of a foe is not in good taste,
we are also "Paratagnna" or mundane enough not to rejoice and you know
the debacle insinuated i.e. the drama at Bangalore. The involved woman
had been giving us enough headaches.
And it was in such an elated mood that I perused the statistics given
in Jeevana Yatra, again garnered from highly credible international
sources. The little island again tops the list, that is as regards life
expectancy in South Asia. Achieving such a high status in life
expectancy implies high standards in good health springing from abundant
medical facilities, though of course death and health are not the only
interlocking factors. Death can be caused by many other factors but
diseases and body deterioration surface to the foremost position. Anyway
here are the aligned statistics, the latest, 2005 - 2010 as regards the
region that belongs to the developing sector.
Life expectancy rate
Bangladesh: 65.8, Bhutan: 56.4, India: 67.2, Nepal: 67.2, Pakistan:
65.9 and Maldives (Not recorded), Sri Lanka 74.8.
Here is something more to crow over. Average life expectancy rate for
South Asia is 65.8 and our island has gone above this range by nearly 10
Primary Source, i.e. UN Pacific Population Pacific Projections is in
itself very credible and the agent behind has no need to manipulate
false statistics. Some scoff at the epithet, Wonder of Asia, but in this
area we seem to have gone a long way to reach it. Getting away from
superlatives, here are more interesting data and facts in "the
population area" of the island.
* The life expectancy of females i.e. 75, Sri Lanka is more than that
of males which is 70. An increase just past 75 (F) and 80 (M) is
expected in the near future.
*To get away from dry data alone, I will refer to a discussion once
held at National Institute of Education, Maharagama regarding the causes
for female priority in life expectancy. Are females more healthier? And
there is the factor of females dying at child birth too, which can be
overlooked in the mortality picture of males. To put it more impolitely,
no male dies or is expected to die at childbirth, a sad phenomenon
limited to females. Then why this paradoxical discrepancy?
Among the reasons given were that males being more mobile are more
prone to accidents, which is again belied by the apparent evidence that
women are seen in equal number or even in a higher number on our roads
today. Perhaps the alacrity to avoid an accident is more in the case of
males. Women too die less of incidents of violence as they are less
militant, except in the area of verbal assaults hurled at each other.
Sins of alcoholism
Another reason given was the higher ethical aspect of living. Women
in Sri Lanka as well as in most South Asian countries rarely tend to
suffer from the sins of alcoholism, rich food that kills, smoking and
diseases resulting from the intake of these etc.(Only female vendors on
Negombo streets cum fish stalls smoke openly). Poor women never suffer
from the debacle of fatty food that make them obese.
Women also obey their doctors more while the song "Kapalla, Beepalla,
Jolly Karapalla, Heta Merunath Hithata Sepai, ada Jolly Karala" (Eat,
drink, be jolly... never mind dying tomorrow if we can be jolly today)
is never or rarely sung by the female kind. The downtrodden class,
domiciling the slums and have no high targets sing the song more and
succumb to early deaths.
*Before 2025 the Lankan population will reach 21 millions (again
statistics quoted from Jeevana yatra - secondary source, main author,
Dr. Leel Gunasekera, one time Director of HelpAge.)
* Among the countries in the world where life expectancy is high, Sri
Lanka seems to have almost bulldozed herself for she is the poorest to
do so. Is there some mystery behind that? Since it is the female kind
that fattens the population, perhaps the average Buddhist ethos
stabilises the life of the elderly female who provides a sizeable
segment of the population. Balmic to the eyes, is their very sight as
they amble to the temples with flowers for the Great Mentor.
*Further, Sri Lanka according to the UN Population Fund. 2011. Again
quoted in Jeevan Yatra is one of the fastest ageing countries. Among
Asian countries it retains third place. Only about 10 percent of the
population today in Sri Lanka is above 60 years, females again
predominating males. That 90 percent have dropped by the wayside on the
way to 60 years is a pathetic fact. In 2013 it had been 13 percent.
* Region-wise some areas in the country show a preponderance in
population figures. For example Hambantota district boasts 79.6 as the
Life Expectancy rate while it ebbs to 66.9 in Colombo district and in
the North. This in itself poses an an inexplicable anomaly as Colombo
district is replete with medical facilities.
*Needless to state, but the rising rate of the aged in Sri Lanka,
though one can boast about it, poses a plethora of problems for the
Govt. Its need to provide a network of looking after them has become
imperative especially when age old traditions of looking after the
elderly by the family are fast collapsing. Recent press coverages of the
molestations ad robbing of old women are strong evidence of this torrid
* I cannot but end this with a piece on the old widows of Benares, a
city so familiar to us via Buddhist literature. They languish on the
banks of Yamuna as it flows past the city. Their husbands have departed
the world a long time back (in keeping with female over male mortality,
a universal trend) but the women have stored a few coins to fund their
funerals and these coin bundles are tied to their wastes, which I have
seen with my own eyes while visiting this city. The "Banks" however has
ended as death traps for many women are robbed and murdered due to them.
This is a stark instance of what happens to aged widows. They may live
on, after the husbands but the tragedies and horror tales they are
subject to, are numerous.
* Jeevan Yatra is a book that packets all these facts and woes and
certainly deserves more publicity in this special month of October
population wise, than mere roosting on the shelves of the Godage
bookshop where it is available now.