Tragedy high­lights plight of left-be­hind el­derly

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Afire that en­gulfed a pri­vately run nurs­ing home for the el­derly in Cen­tral China’sHenan prov­ince onMon­day night, killing 38 peo­ple and in­jur­ing six oth­ers, two of whom are in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion, has once again re­vealed the poor care-pro­vid­ing sys­tem for se­nior peo­ple in many parts of the coun­try, es­pe­cially in its im­pov­er­ished ru­ral ar­eas.

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, the nurs­ing house in a vil­lage in Lushan county, which was home to 51 lo­cal el­derly res­i­dents, was made of iron sheets with flammable foam board as fill­ing. Ac­cord­ing to sur­vivors, the rest home was short of staff, es­pe­cially at night.

The fi­nal cause of the ac­ci­dent is yet to be in­ves­ti­gated, but the ex­po­sure of the poor con­di­tions of the makeshift struc­ture, un­doubt­edly means it was a huge safety haz­ard. And surely the con­di­tions in­creased the dif­fi­cul­ties for any­one in­side try­ing to es­cape and those out­side try­ing to res­cue them.

The ex­is­tence of such a fire­trap shows the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties’ in­dif­fer­ence to the el­derly who need look­ing af­ter.

Fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang ex­pressed their con­cern and de­manded all-out med­i­cal treat­ment be ex­tended to the wounded, in­ves­ti­ga­tions be made into the ac­ci­dent’s cause and those re­spon­si­ble be held accountable ac­cord­ing to the law. TheMin­istry of Civil Af­fairs has sent a team to deal with the af­ter­math of the tragedy and re­quired all sub­or­di­nate agen­cies to make safety checks on such care homes to pre­vent any sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents in the fu­ture. A po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the dis­as­ter is also un­der­way.

All such af­ter-event moves, which to a large ex­tent are regular pro­ce­dure, are nec­es­sary. How­ever, the pun­ish­ment of any found re­spon­si­ble for th­ese deaths is not the only out­come peo­ple want. The public earnestly hopes that this deadly in­ci­dent will prompt the au­thor­i­ties to pay enough at­ten­tion to the plight of the coun­try’s large num­ber of se­nior peo­ple and take prac­ti­cal mea­sures to pro­mote im­prove­ments.

The Lushan in­ci­dent is only the lat­est in a num­ber of deadly nurs­ing homes ac­ci­dents that have oc­curred across the coun­try in re­cent years. In­com­plete statis­tics in­di­cate that at least 14 deadly in­ci­dents have re­sulted in the deaths of se­niors living in nurs­ing homes over the past two years, in­clud­ing fires, wall col­lapses and vi­o­lence against se­niors. In July 2013, a nurs­ing home for the el­derly in Hailun city, in Hei­longjiang prov­ince, was set on fire by one of its res­i­dents who had a per­sonal feud with an­other, which killed 11 and in­jured two oth­ers. There have also been spo­radic me­dia re­ports about the el­derly in care homes be­ing phys­i­cally abused by the staff.

The fre­quent oc­cur­rence of such in­ci­dents in­volv­ing nurs­ing homes for the el­derly is likely to con­tinue un­less the gov­ern­ment pays more at­ten­tion to the el­derly.

China can­not af­ford to ig­nore the needs of its el­derly pop­u­la­tion, given that it con­tin­ues to grow as so­ci­ety ages. Statis­tics in­di­cates China’s aging pop­u­la­tion ac­counted for 15.5 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion by the end of 2014, and is it ex­pected to fur­ther rise to 30 per­cent by 2050. Ac­cord­ing to the na­tional com­mit­tee for se­nior cit­i­zens’ work, the num­ber of peo­ple above 60 ex­ceeded 200 mil­lion in 2013. TheMin­istry of Civil Af­fairs data also shows that peo­ple above 65 who are “left be­hind” while their chil­dren seek work else­where will be more than 51 mil­lion by the end of 2015. Yet, the lat­est fig­ures show China had only 32,000 reg­is­tered homes for se­nior cit­i­zens by the end ofMarch and around 220,000 care givers, com­pared with 10 mil­lion who are needed.

The fre­quent tragedies in­volv­ing nurs­ing homes for the el­derly have un­der­scored the coun­try’s need to be more pre­pared for its aging so­ci­ety, in terms of both fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily.


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