North-East Asia is one of the fastest ageing parts of the world. In 2010, six countries – China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation – accounted for 31% of the world's population aged 65 years and above. In China alone, the estimated number of people aged 60 or over is 180 million.
The majority of older people in China live in rural areas. An increasing number live on their own or care for grandchildren whose parents have migrated to cities. In rural China, grandparents care for 38% of children under five whose parents have gone to work in cities. Many of them are struggling to make ends meet.
Pu Guonu, 75 lives alone in Shaanxi province. She grows and prepares her own food such as corn and wheat. She has a small vegetable patch behind her house where she grows beans and tomatoes and keeps two chickens. She says that losing her husband after 61 years of marriage was one of the hardest things ever for her. She finds being alone very tough, particularly as she doesn't have children.
Sometimes she has difficulty providing for herself. "I grind the corn in the village mill and exchange some of it for noodles. My main food is porridge and noodles. I don't grow enough to sell - in fact, I am often hungry," Pu says. When she runs out of food the village head provides her with some.
Pu has high blood pressure, gastritis and leg pains, but only buys medicine when her condition has deteriorated so much that she cannot walk. "I do not have enough money for medicine," she explains.
HelpAge is working in western China to tackle the poverty and health issues faced by older people such as Pu Guonu, with support from local authorities.
In the past year, we have worked with 50 older people's associations to strengthen agricultural livelihoods, promote healthy ageing and encourage community-based care for vulnerable and isolated older people in Shaanxi, Sichuan and Hunan provinces. We have also joined forces with the China National Committee on Ageing to help local governments plan for the impact of rapid ageing.
Ensuring the inclusion of ageing and the needs of older persons in all national development policies is a core recommendation of Ageing in the Twenty-First Century.
The Chinese Government has taken steps in this direction by including the establishment of a comprehensive care and social service system for older people as a national priority in its 12th five-year plan (2011-2015).