Ordeal of the aged

Published : Jun 03, 2011 00:00 IST

IN a country where almost one-fourth of the population is above the age of 65, the recent disaster brought out the vulnerability of the elderly during an unfolding catastrophe, and later at the stage of rescue and planning for rehabilitation. The elderly accounted for a very high rate among the dead. About 65 per cent of the over 80 per cent of the dead whose identity was confirmed were 60 years or older, according to figures put out by the National Police Agency. In Iwate prefecture, 54 per cent of those who died were 65 and above; in Miyake the figure was 54.8 per cent; and in Fukushima it was 57.7 per cent.

The helplessness of the elderly during the tsunami was brought out sharply in the media. There were media stories of Japan's Self Defence Force personnel finding 128 severely dehydrated elderly people abandoned by the medical staff in a hospital. Of them, 14 did not survive the ordeal. Many old people could not run quickly to higher ground when the tsunami struck, and there are stories of people carrying their elders on their backs to safety.

Aged couples who lived on their own were not always as lucky in making a safe escape. In the Tokyo Budokan evacuee camp, of the 151 inmates, 24 were above 60. According to Sayako Matsumoto, media officer from the Red Cross Society, the elderly were among those who did not wish to move to evacuation camps as they were accustomed to their routine and environment and were resistant to change. The disaster has brought into focus the inadequate physical capabilities of the aged to negotiate a natural calamity and escape to safety, issues that will require disaster preparedness manuals to be rewritten.

Parvathi Menon
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