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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

The need to care for senior members of society goes beyond respect

Laying the foundations now for a changing demographic is no less vital than preparing nation's young

The Council of Ministers adopts the "National Policy for Senior Citizens" within a comprehensive community and health care system. WAM
The Council of Ministers adopts the "National Policy for Senior Citizens" within a comprehensive community and health care system. WAM

The UAE is one of the world’s younger countries, with its sights set firmly on tomorrow. But the new National Policy for Senior Emiratis is a welcome reassurance that, in the race to the future, the nation will not forget those who toiled to get it to the starting line.

Rightly, there is intense focus on preparing today’s youth for the challenges the country faces in a post-oil global economy. The Future Leaders Programme, the Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations, the recently launched online learning tool Madrasa – barely a month passes without the launch of another initiative dedicated to equipping the UAE’s youngsters for the future.

Earlier this month, the message from the oldest generation on the International Day of Older Persons was that they still had much to offer. “Don’t forget us,” was the plea.

The new measures announced this week by the cabinet confirm that the country has no intention of doing any such thing. The wide-ranging package, designed to ensure elderly Emiratis remain active and supported members of society, will be especially welcome in the northern Emirates, where many currently lack access to health insurance.

Respect for the elderly is ingrained in traditional Arabic society and articulated in the Quran. But the need to care for senior citizens goes beyond respect, or even a pragmatic recognition that it is folly for any society to cut itself off from the hard-won wisdom of its elders. Like many Arab states, the UAE is in the grip of what sociologists call “demographic transition”.

Falling birth rates and increasing life expectancy mean a greater share of the population will be aged in the coming decades. In the UAE the “dependency burden” – a measure of the proportion of the population aged over 65 – is predicted to rise from about 3 per cent in 2000 to more than 27 in 2050.

Laying the foundations now for coping with that changing demographic is no less vital a preparation for the future than training the next generation of leaders. After all, the young of today are the senior Emiratis of tomorrow.