Monday, January 14, 2013

Beyond Lost Compasses and New Compassions

copyright stephane mot
"Last cig", a shot I took
a couple of years ago
in Nowon-gu
Last year I was saddened by statistics showing that more and more elderlies died alone in Seoul and today*, Korea JoongAng Daily reported touching stories of senior citizens who, even if they were not lonely, were either too weak or senile and eventually found dead in rice paddies not far from their villages. This article on the boom in missing reports for seniors (+30% last year) shows how the phenomenon has become a priority in certain communities, particularly in Korea's top 5 "super-aged" localities (in Chungcheongnam-do: Nonsan, Buyeo-gun, Geumsan-gun, Cheongyang-gun - in Jeollanam-do: Goheung-gun).

If Korea is ageing at an alarming pace**, impacts are particularly felt in rural areas with dwindling populations, but not only in the most remote places where last generations of farmers survive in dire conditions. Small communities and villages simply cannot cope. On one end schools are closing, and on the other there are no infrastructure for the eldelies. 

Ageing society is already a challenge in Seoul, but the capital city can leverage all its assets to get prepared. It's not only a matter of hardware or infrastructures: for instance, middle school students are trained to understand the handicaps of old age through simulations involving heavy suits, wheelchairs, altered environments... Senior citizens are tested very regularly in senior welfare centers or even in the subway:

Across rural Korea, solutions will have to be smart, and network-based, there again at the human as well as at the technological level: location based services can be developped, but scarce resources and energies will also have to be pooled and shared, beyond families and local communities.

It's not just a matter of welfare: Korea must be reunited at all levels, and its senior citizens have a major role to play in the future.

Seoul Village 2013
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* "In aging society, more elderly reported missing" (Korea JoongAng Daily 20130115 - yes, again the KJD, following last week's "New homes, old stories for Seoul mayor")
** see previous posts related to demographics in Korea, including the old "The Incredible Shrinking Korea"

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