Which countries have the worst environment for the elderly?

Old men in Herat, Afghanistan. The country is at the bottom of HelpAge International's recent Global Age Watch Index. Photo by: Marius Arnesen / CC BY-SA

There are currently more than 900 million men and women aged 60 and above worldwide, and this number is expected to rise to 1.4 billion — and account for 16.5 percent of the global population — in the next 15 years.

The growing aging population can arguably be attributed to the success the expiring development goals are having on improving the quality — and length — of people’s lives. But governments and development institutions were not prepared to handle the needs of the elderly, preventing this demographic from benefiting from inclusive and sustainable development. Nowhere is this more apparent than during conflict situations.

“Armed conflict [and fragility] negatively impacts on a range of aspects of living, including income and food security,” Jane Scobie, director of communications and advocacy at HelpAge International, told Devex. “They destroy infrastructure, services, assets and livelihoods, displace populations, break social cohesion, institutions and norms and create fear and distrust.”

And all of these affect older people the hardest, as shown in the latest Global Age Watch Index of the London-based organization. The index ranked 96 countries according to various factors, including average life expectancy, percentage of pension coverage, income security as well as enabling environment. But since it relies only on publicly available data, countries where no 2014 data is available were excluded. In Africa, for instance, only 11 of 54 countries were covered in the index.

“Some of the lowest-scoring countries [in the index] all share a background of recent and current conflict, severely affecting every indicator,” said Scobie, who is also the lead author of the report. “[It] impacts on every aspect of a country and it’s no surprise that countries recently afflicted by violence [and fragility] rank low in the index.”

To see where donor support for older people is most needed, Devex looked at how the elderly population is faring in the five countries and territories occupying the bottom of the index — all of which are fragile, conflict or post-conflict states.


Rank: 96
Region: Asia
Population over 60 years old: 1.3 million (4 percent of total)

The conflict-ridden nation of Afghanistan has placed at the very bottom of the index for two consecutive years. While Afghans who reach the age of 60 are expected to live for an additional 16 years, the overall national pension coverage rate for people 65 years and up stands at just 10 percent.

Further, among the countries in the index, Afghanistan ranks second-lowest when it comes to providing an enabling environment — social connections, physical safety, civic freedom and access to public transport — to the elderly: only 47.1 percent of its older population have access to an enabling environment, slightly lower than the 47.2 percent of Afghan elderly that are currently employed.


Rank: 95
Region: Africa
Population over 60 years old: 0.9 million (4.9 percent of total)

Placing at the second-lowest rung of the index, Malawi provides pensions to just 4 percent of its population aged 65 and above — the second-lowest overall national pension coverage rate in Africa. This is despite life expectancy averaging at 76 years.

But despite just 48.4 percent of the elderly population having access to an enabling environment, 96.4 percent of people aged 60 and above hold jobs in Malawi. The situation for the elderly is likely to improve as well, as civil society groups are expected to call for the adoption of a universal social protection program next month.


Rank: 94
Region: Africa
Population over 60 years old: 1.4 million (5.1 percent of total)

Mozambique’s long-standing civil war might have seen a peaceful end year ago, but the older population in the country is still mired in an unwelcoming environment. This has been exacerbated by the gap between the rich and the poor, and instances of social exclusion — despite having a national aging policy in place.

For a country with a life expectancy of 76 years, the national pension coverage rate for people aged 65 and above is at 17 percent. A little more than 70 percent of the elderly population is employed, although just 45.1 percent of them have access to an enabling environment.

West Bank and Gaza

Rank: 93
Region: Asia
Population over 60 years old: 0.2 million (4.5 percent of total)

The protracted crisis in West Bank and Gaza has significantly contributed to the plight of the older people living in the territories, many of whom have had been displaced several times from their homes.

At 78 years, life expectancy in West Bank and Gaza is slightly better than the other countries in the index’s bottom five; its enabling environment is a little higher as well at 62.3 percent. But only 8 percent of people aged 65 and above receive pensions, and just 29.2 percent of the elderly are employed.

In its report, however, HelpAge explained more data is needed to properly assess how the older population is faring in West Bank and Gaza, particularly when it comes to access to humanitarian services.


Rank: 92
Region: Asia
Population over 60 years old: 12.5 million (6.6 percent of total)

Of the 96 countries in the Global Age Watch Index, Pakistan has the lowest national pension coverage rate for people aged 65 and above: just 2 percent for a nation where the life expectancy is 77 years.

The number of employed elderly in the country is meanwhile relatively average at 56.2 percent. while the enabling environment falls at at the bottom 15 of the index with a 56.1 percent rating.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.

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