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close this bookLiving Conditions of Low-income Older Persons in Human Settlements UNCHS (Habitat) (HABITAT, 1999, 38 p.)
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View the documentIII. Living conditions of low-income older persons in human settlements

III. Living conditions of low-income older persons in human settlements


Although each country surveyed differs from others in terms of its culture, climate, geography, economic and social problems, type of government, etc., one must also recognize that the surveys cover only a small percentage of the elderly poor in each city and cannot claim to represent the totality of conditions which may exist. Interestingly, despite differences among the countries surveyed, the survey provides evidence of many common conditions and problems, even between cities in less and more developed countries.

The following concerns, complaints and wishes for change were expressed by older people in the cities surveyed:

1. Shelter: Many of the ageing in squatter settlements complained about the inadequate size, poor construction and unhealthy surroundings of their homes. Those in good health said they would improve their homes if provided with legal tenure of their sites at affordable costs and with small low interest loans to purchase building materials.

2. Health maintenance: Convenient and affordable access to health clinics and hospitals, and home visits by people trained in geriatrics for those unable to get to these facilities.

3. A Safe, Secure and Healthy Environment: Protection from crime, discrimination, traffic and other hazards; adequate water supply, solid waste and sewage disposal, road or path access to homes, electricity, telephones and fuels at affordable costs; reduction or elimination of air and water pollution, hazardous wastes; and safer housing sites not located on steep slopes or wet areas.

4. Social Services, Jobs and Community Participation:

- Community or elderly centres for social contacts, recreation, counseling and minor health care
- Opportunities to participate in community affairs
- Employment, education and training services for those able to work
- Opportunities for inter-generational contacts.

Who are the people surveyed?

Gender - About two-thirds were women and less than a third were men, which is near the usual demographic split in aging populations globally.

Age- Just over half were in their 60s; one-third were in their 70s, and 15% were over 80.

Household Size - About one-fifth of the dwellings were occupied by elderly persons living alone, and almost half the households were composed of 1 to 3 persons of which one was a spouse. Large extended families of 4 to 6 or more persons were found in one-third of the homes, mainly concentrated in New Delhi, Cairo, Nairobi and Cape Town

Health - Three-fourths of the respondents considered their health as Good or Fair. Only one-fourth said Poor. However one-third complained of difficulty in walking; 42% had sight problems; 21% in hearing, and 13% said they used crutches or wheelchairs. Length of residence - Over half said they had lived in the community for 30 years or more.

Employment - While 16% said they were employed, there were wide variations: In Cape Town, New Delhi and Budapest about 30% had full or part time jobs or occupations.

Pensions - Over one-third reported that they received government pensions or social security payments; ten percent had private pensions.

Sources of housing funds - Two-thirds were dependent on their families; 28% drew from their savings to pay for housing; and 10% said that pensions covered their housing costs.

What are their living conditions?

Dwelling type - Over two-thirds of the dwellings were houses, and one-third were apartments. (Most of the apartments were in Cairo and Budapest. Houses were in outlying settlements such as Ankara, Cape Town and Sydney).

Building materials - Almost 60% of the dwellings were built of brick or concrete/cinder blocks. However, many were made of wood. Other materials such as earth, iron sheets, etc. were used in over one-third of the dwellings.

Own-Rent - 60% reported that they owned their homes, while 40% rented. Most of the owner occupied dwellings were in squatter settlements such as those near Nairobi, New Delhi, and Santiago where the house but not the land was owned. An exception was in Budapest where the elderly owned their apartments.

Dwelling size - Over half contained only 1 or 2 rooms; a third had 3 or 4 rooms, and a fifth had 5 or more rooms.

Gardens - Only one-third said they had a garden, indicating that many of the squatter houses did not have gardens.

Sanitary facilities - Two-thirds of the households reported having piped water in their dwelling, and 60% said they had private latrines. Less than half reported having a bath or shower in their dwelling and one-third said they bathed outdoors. (There is clearly some overlap in these responses; for example most people reported having piped water in their dwelling, but had no private bath or latrine).

Fuels -Two-thirds of the homes had electricity and 40% had gas for heat or cooking. One-fourth depended on wood or charcoal for fuel.

Public Services - (provided by local government) Waste disposal - 80% of respondents; Police/Fire protection - 60%; Street cleaning - 60%; Street lighting -70%

(* Note: Some respondents in Cape Town and Kingston stated that there was no police protection because they considered it inadequate).

Communication - Less than half of all respondents had telephones; 60%had radios, and 50% had TVs. Postal delivery was not uniform, particularly in squatter areas.


Special consideration of the problems of aging and urbanization is needed in view of the simultaneous acceleration of two demographic trends: the recent dramatic and continuing growth in urban population and in the growing percentage of world population over 60 years of age. Both of these trends are increasing most rapidly in

Developing countries. Projections by the UN Population Division indicate that the population aged 60 or over in the less developed world regions will be multiplied more than 9 times from 171 million in 1998 to 1,594 million in the year 2050- increasing its share from 8 percent to 21 percent.

Urban areas in less developed regions of the world housed one-third of the population in 1998 and were growing at a rate of 3.4% per annum. This trend is expected to continue and will comprise 57% of the population of these regions by 2030 when 4.1 billion people are projected to be living in urban communities as defined by each country.

The combination of these two UN demographic projections indicates that the urban population over 60 years of age in less developed regions of the world may multiply approximately 16 times, from about 56 million in 1998 to over 908 million people in 2050, or one-fourth of total urban population.

Such a dramatic increase in older persons in urban areas of the developing world will create new problems requiring adjustments in policies and administration for national and urban governments. Where current practices emphasize the provision of services to the elderly at government expense, they may have to be limited to the disabled and most indigent because of increased demand. Emphasis will have to be given to keeping the aging healthy and actively participating in the employed labour force by extending the retirement age, and also taking some responsibilities for their shelter and community improvements.

To grasp the magnitude of the impact of the projected increase of the aging population in developing countries, the following table shows the present (1990) percentage of population over 60 years of age in the cities or urban areas of the countries participating in the Survey of Older People: The percentage of elderly in developing countries is generally below 10%, whereas it is over 10% in industrial countries.









Cape Town










Kingston (Jamaica)


Santiago (Chile)






* Note: City data of total urban population was not available

Source: UN Compendium of Human Settlement Statistics 1995