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Exposed: The Heartbreaking Reality of Thailand’s Ageing Crisis – Could this be the Next Economic Disaster?

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Residing in Klong Toey, one of Bangkok’s poorest regions, Chusri Kaewkhio, 73, and her 75-year-old spouse Suchart, are two among many aged individuals struggling to handle the spiraling living costs in Thailand. Unless going out to brave the scorching sun for a free meal, Noi, 73, manages to live with the ketchup smeared bread, her only sustenance. This Thai widow’s monthly governmental pension offering of around 82 US cents daily renders home cooking nearly impracticable.

“If the weather is too austere, I relish 7-Eleven bread dunked in ketchup,” shares Noi in a conversation with AFP at a food distribution camp set up by the Bangkok Community Help Foundation, a support line for around 500 of Bangkok’s underprivileged residents.

Shaping up as one of the swiftest ageing societies across the globe, Thailand, according to WHO, is woefully underprepared to accept the economic implications. As per the research drafted by Kasikorn Bank, a renowned lender, it is predicted that Thailand is set to join the club of super-aged societies, constituting over 20% of the population above 65 years, by 2029. However, unlike several super-ageing societies like Japan and Germany, Thailand struggles to attain a comparable wealth status.

“We’ve aged rapidly, yet wealth accumulation hasn’t followed suit,” opines Burin Adulwattana, chief economist, Kasikorn Bank. “We’re not ready.” Thailand is a home to over 12 million senior citizens, which accounts for roughly 18% of the total population.

Poverty amongst the senior citizens is prevalent in Thailand, with around 34% living beneath the poverty proposition, surviving on less than $830 annually. To lead a satisfactory retired life in Bangkok, Burin suggests, savings of minimum $100,000 is needed; contrasting immensely with the fact that numerous Thai citizens take retirement with merely $1,300 accumulated in savings.

In the wake of the soaring living costs, Chusri Kaewkhio, residing in Bangkok’s Khlong Toei slum with her 75-year-old husband Suchart, expressed, “I wish the government offered considerable assistance to cope with the escalating costs of living.” While her spouse lies down in a decrepit bed adorned with an adult diaper, they manage to score borrowed money every month to cater to the purchase of high-cost milk for his feeding tube, all the while struggling to cope with unpaid electricity dues amounting to five months.

However, the heartbreaking stories don’t conclude here. Orn Keawwilat, 57, finds herself in a challenging predicament, having to look after her terminally ill parents and simultaneously running a small-scale general store for supporting her 12-member family. The grim reality that she shares succinctly mirrors the need for substantial social changes and investments in Thailand. And for multiple retirees, the hope of a dignified retirement remains a far-fetched dream.

Former teacher Aew, 70, never married, lost her home during the pandemic and now sleeps on seats at the Bang Sue Grand train station. “The pension is not enough. I also make plastic flowers to sell on the street… But I want a job,” she said. This only highlights the urgent need for authorities to make structural adjustments to accommodate the rapidly ageing society.

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