[Colombo, 8th, Thomson Reuters Foundation]- Kiri Banda used to work as a cook in Sri Lanka’s largest city, Colombo. After his retirement, he hoped to spend a peaceful old age with his son. But last year, when Banda’s medical bills began to weigh on her finances, she decided to move out.
“I didn’t want to be a burden,” Banda said. They spend their days begging and looking for food, and sleep on park benches at night.
Such scenes have become more common since last year Sri Lanka plunged into its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Food prices are skyrocketing, medicines and fuel are in short supply, and angry protests are erupting.
84-year-old Banda said as he sat by the roadside waiting for a passerby to hand him some change, saying, “It’s hard for the younger generation to survive in Sri Lanka, let alone for the elderly like us.” what will happen?” he says.
The government is rushing to secure $2.9 billion in financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but President Wickremesinghe has warned that any delay in the aid will put Sri Lanka on the brink of another sharp downturn.
It is the elderly who are feeling real pain from the economic crisis. Traditionally, elderly care in Sri Lanka relies largely on family members.
Many of those who have retired at an old age do not receive pensions, and some families have already lost the ability to support the lives of the elderly.
The elderly are also facing shortages of medicines and shrinking government welfare budgets. For example, programs such as free contact lens distribution and financial assistance for the self-employed have been suspended, both of which were designed specifically for the elderly.
K.G. Lanellore, director general of the National Secretariat for the Elderly, the government agency responsible for the welfare system for the elderly, said that more than 650,000 people are receiving temporary allowances and other support each month.
“The centralization of the welfare and security of the elderly in Sri Lanka in a single agency has become a major challenge given the limited resources in the current economic crisis,” he said. there is,” he said.
The island nation of Sri Lanka has the fastest aging population in South Asia.
According to the World Bank, about 16% of the country’s roughly 22 million people are already over the age of 60. By 2041, the proportion will rise to one in four.
“The increase in the elderly population has reached a level that can be called a social problem,” said Lannerol.
The country does not have a pension system that covers all citizens.
Workers in the informal sector, in particular, are often left out of coverage and eligibility for multiple schemes, leaving many vulnerable older people without income.
One person not covered by the pension scheme is S.D. Priyadasa, 82, who used to work as an experimenter.
My savings ran out long ago. Most of it was used to treat an ulcer on one leg caused by diabetes.
Priyadasa walks nine kilometers every month to visit an old friend in Mount Lavinia, a suburb of Colombo, and receives 5,000 rupees ($18) for her widowed disabled sister and her young children. share with
“Sometimes I only eat once a day,” says Priyadasa.
“What my sister and I care about most is the health and education of her children. They are still very young. I’m doing my best.”
The sisters, Millerin Peiris and Irene, are both in their early 70s. She receives a monthly remittance of 7,000 rupees from her more financially secure siblings.
But due to rising inflation, this amount is now barely enough to pay for a one-bedroom apartment.
They also walk two kilometers every day to attend a day care center for the elderly run by the international charity Help Age. If you go here, all meals are served for free.
“I used to work in a garment factory. I’ve been an independent woman all my life. I don’t want to beg, but I’m afraid all this support will eventually end,” said Irene Peiris. says.
Charities say the number of requests for help is alarming.
Samantha Liyanawaduge, executive director of HelpAge’s Sri Lanka chapter, said there has been a noticeable increase in demand from the elderly for food and other assistance since the country’s economic situation has deteriorated rapidly. .
HelpAge has provided mobile medical equipment and home care services, but says the state needs to do more.
“We are being asked to play the role that the government should play, although we are doing our best,” said Liyanawaduge.
The Ministry of Social Involvement, which houses the National Office for Senior Citizens, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One person who has been forced to make an unavoidable choice during the current crisis is single mother Nishanti Fernando.
Fernando runs a small grocery store in the town of Talpitiya, south of Colombo city. With that income, he supports his 12-year-old son with autism and his 67-year-old father. Her husband has moved out and is doing nothing to support her financially.
Fernando realized last year that he could no longer support them on his meager income. In particular, his father’s medical bills continue to rise.
“I was scared. He said he considered suicide because of the stress.
“I’m the only son, so I had no choice but to ask my father to go to a facility for the elderly.”
Fernando pays a small fee to cover the costs of the charity-run facility and visits his father whenever possible.
“If I had a better paying job, I wouldn’t have sent him to a facility where he was cared for by strangers,” said Fernando.
“But now I know that nursing homes aren’t so bad. They’ll take care of me that I can’t.”
(Reporter Piyumi Fonseka, translated by Eaklelen)