December 9, 2011

THAILAND: Elderly flood victims lack support

BANGKOK, Thailand / Bangkok Post / News / December 9, 2011

NAKHON SAWAN : State and private sectors should pay more attention to elderly people affected by the flood disaster as they need special support to get their lives back to normal, a community leader says.

Payao Sapprasong, 84,emerges from her rented house in Muang district of Nakhon Sawan. The flood crisis destroyed most of her belongings.She used to work as a masseuse to earn enough money to send her grandson to school and pay the rent—now she is jobless. SOMCHAI POOMLARD
Karuna Kiriwan, leader of Wat Phrom Jariyawat community in Muang district, has voiced concerned over the well-being of older people in her community as most of them were left to struggle with the flood aftermath alone.

Like their communities upcountry, many young people have left the villages to work in big cities, leaving old people at home with their grandchildren.

Sixty percent of Wat Phrom Jariyawat community's 1,200 residents are elderly, Ms Karuna said, adding that most developed post traumatic stress disorder after the disaster.

"I have talked to them since the flood and found that they have serious depression," Ms Karuna said. "Most of them live alone or live with their grandchildren, whose parents work in other places.

"At such an old age, it is very difficult for them to earn enough money to restore their houses or to buy new household appliances."

Ms Karuna said agencies in charge of flood rehabilitation should urgently address the problem of mental health among the elderly. Light jobs, hobbies, and recreational activities should be organised to ease their stress, she said.

Payao Sapprasong is one of the elderly residents affected by the flood in early October.

The 84-year-old lived with her 16-year-old grandson in a 10-square-metre rental room when the floodwaters arrived.

She moved to an evacuation centre at a school at Wat Phrom Jariyawat community.

"At that time, I felt despair and didn't know what to do about the future," she said. "I can't do my job, which means that I don't have money for my grandson to go to school and no money to pay for the house rent."

She worked as a Thai traditional masseuse. Before the flood, she could earn about 400 baht a week, but when the flood struck she become jobless.

"I lost my closet, mattress and fan in the flood," Mrs Payao said. "It was my biggest loss in the flood. I don't know whether I have enough money to replace them as I need to keep money for my grandson.

"All I can do now is to pray. I pray for my strength, to be strong enough to survive the crisis."

She said she wanted the Pheu Thai government to increase the 500-baht allowance for the elderly as they promised during the election campaign. Ms Karuna suggested every disaster-hit community set up a centre for the elderly especially those who have no one living at home to take care of them.

"A community temple is a good venue to set up such a centre, where the elderly can have eating and resting areas," she said, adding that running a centre for the elderly needs cooperation from all sectors, including local residents.

The community council held regularly meetings to map out a flood rehabilitation programme, which covered all groups of residents, including elderly people.

Villagers formed a team to clean up the houses of those who needed help and to improve the community's landscape damaged by the deluge.

Ms Karuna said every community should come up with a plan to make their locality elderly-friendly as the nation becomes more and more an ageing society.

The Foundation of Thai Gerontology Research and Development Institute, said Thailand had 7.1 million elderly people in 2009. This number is expected to increase as the life expectancy at birth has been risen from 68.5 to 73.6 years for men and from 75 to 79.1 years for women.

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