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Sunday, 12 October 2014

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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 percent.

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 evil.

* 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.

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