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Natural disasters almost spell death for the elderly in India’s mega cities

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[h=2]Experts maintain that the senior citizens are likely to constitute a significant chunk of the total deaths in Chennai floods.[/h]
On December 1, heavy rainfall doused Chennai. Over the next few hours, the city had received 50 cm worth of rainfall in the suburbs (Tambaram) and nearly 30 cm inside Chennai. This should put the numbers in perspective: that’s how much rain Chennai got during two weeks in November.
The rains lashed relentlessly as rivers swelled, breached banks and the Chembarambakkam reservoir was opened without much warning.

As the surge swept through the city, it swallowed everything in the way — cars, bridges, airports, hospitals, hutments and devoured the metropolis.
The State government declared Chennai as disaster zone; Army rescue teams were deployed to evacuate survivors in the worst-hit areas — where floodwaters threatened second floor houses.
In Ekkattuthaangal, Lt. Col. (retired) G. Venkateshan and his wife Geetha were increasingly getting nervous. With Adyar river rising, literally inside his dining room, the 72-year-old ex-army officer and his wife stood up on the dining table. When that was not enough, they put chairs on top of the table and climbed on top. But the water consumed everything, their entire single storey apartment went under — taking them with it.
I read about the couple on social media. Later, the image of the elderly couple kept coming to me: splashing through waters in their own living room. Screaming for help for hours at a stretch — and later, much later, with doors still firmly locked and no help coming, the shrieking died down. The house now filled with eerie silence — an image of perfect, urban isolation.

Sudha Ramamoorthy of Chennai Rain Relief, a volunteer's group that came together when the monsoon began last month, says she was not surprised by the number of elderly people she found stranded -- some for days without any access to relief or rehabilitation. In Nakeeran Nagar and MK Radhanagar, low income colonies by the Cooum river where her team visited, she met a middle aged couple - one of them a stroke patient - who had survived three days without food or water.
With every natural disaster, this is section gets least access to relief. What is more worrying is that this section is growing rapidly. Not only has the share of the elderly to the total population increased from 6.5% in 1981 to 7.4% in 2001, but also the old age dependency ratio has risen from 89 to 119 in the same period of time. Meaning, that with every passing decade, the number of older persons to be supported by every 1000 young people ein the commonly categorized as ‘productive’ is increasing.
With no support system, a sizable chunk of India’s greying population is at defenceless in the face of natural disasters. As flood waters crashed against refrigerators and sofa sets and turned the city’s, supposedly, most benign environment- peoples homes- into death traps, one thing is amply clear- Mrs and Mr Venkatesan were beyond hope, beyond help- even before water breached their threshold.

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